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Wisconsin Governor Walker, education leaders seek new school evaluation system System would replace federally imposed system viewed as a failure

Alan Borsuk:

A system for providing clear, plentiful and sophisticated information for judging the quality of almost every school in Wisconsin, replacing a system that leaves a lot desired on all of those fronts – that is the goal of an eye-catching collaboration that includes Gov. Scott Walker, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, and leaders of eight statewide education organizations.
Walker and Evers said Friday that they will seek approval from the U.S. Department of Education to allow the new school accountability system to replace the decade-old, federally imposed one they labeled as broken.
They want at least a first version of the new system to be ready by spring, and to apply it to outcomes for schools in the 2011-’12 school year.
The new accountability program would include every school that accepts publicly funded students, which means that private schools taking part in the state-funded voucher program would, for the first time, be subject to the same rules as public schools for making a wealth of data available to the public. Charter schools and virtual schools would also participate.

WEAC sues over law giving Wisconsin Governor Walker power over DPI rules

Jason Stein:

Members of state teachers unions sued Thursday to block part of a law giving Gov. Scott Walker veto powers over rules written by other state agencies and elected officials.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal skirmishes between the GOP governor and public employee unions.
In the case, parents of students and members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and Madison Teachers Inc. challenge the law for giving Walker the power to veto administrative rules written by any state agency. That law wrongly gives Walker that power over the state Department of Public Instruction headed by state schools superintendent Tony Evers, the action charges.
“The state constitution clearly requires that the elected state superintendent establish educational policies,” WEAC President Mary Bell, a plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement. “The governor’s extreme power grab must not spill over into education policy in our schools.”
The measure, which Walker signed in May, allows the governor to reject proposed administrative rules used to implement state laws.

A growing number of skeptics wonder whether college is worth the time or the cost

Bill Gross:

A mind is a precious thing to waste, so why are millions of America’s students wasting theirs by going to college? All of us who have been there know an undergraduate education is primarily a four year vacation interrupted by periodic bouts of cramming or Google plagiarizing, but at least it used to serve a purpose. It weeded out underachievers and proved at a minimum that you could pass an SAT test. For those who made it to the good schools, it proved that your parents had enough money to either bribe administrators or hire SAT tutors to increase your score by 500 points. And a degree represented that the graduate could “party hearty” for long stretches of time and establish social networking skills that would prove invaluable later on at office cocktail parties or interactively via Facebook. College was great as long as the jobs were there.
Now, however, a growing number of skeptics wonder whether it’s worth the time or the cost. Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook and head of Clarium Capital, a long-standing hedge fund, has actually established a foundation to give 20 $100,000 grants to teenagers who would drop out of school and become not just tech entrepreneurs but world-changing visionaries. College, in his and the minds of many others, is stultifying and outdated – overpriced and mismanaged – with very little value created despite the bump in earnings power that universities use as their raison d’être in our modern world of money.
Fact: College tuition has increased at a rate 6% higher than the general rate of inflation for the past 25 years, making it four times as expensive relative to other goods and services as it was in 1985. Subjective explanation: University administrators have a talent for increasing top line revenues via tuition, but lack the spine necessary to upgrade academic productivity. Professorial tenure and outdated curricula focusing on liberal arts instead of a more practical global agenda focusing on math and science are primary culprits.

Wisconsin Governor Walker’s Read to Lead task force met on May 31st at the State Capitol. Following are observations from WRC.

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via email:

Governor Walker’s Read to Lead task force met on May 31st at the State Capitol. Following are observations from WRC.
Note: Peggy Stern, an Oscar-winning filmmaker currently working on a project about dyslexia, had a crew filming the meeting. If we are able to acquire footage, we will make it available. If you would like Wisconsin Eye to record future meetings, please contact them at
Format: Unlike the first task force meeting, this meeting was guided by two facilitators from AIR, the American Institutes for Research. This was a suggestion of Senator Luther Olsen, and the facilitators were procured by State Superintendent Tony Evers. Evers and Governor Walker expressed appreciation at not having to be concerned with running the meeting, but there were some problems with the round-robin format chosen by the facilitators. Rather than a give-and-take discussion, as happened at the first meeting, this was primarily a series of statements from people at the table. There was very little opportunity to seek clarification or challenge statements. Time was spent encouraging everyone to comment on every question, regardless of whether they had anything of substance to contribute, and the time allotted to individual task force members varied. Some were cut off before finishing, while others were allowed to go on at length. As a direct result of this format, the conversation was considerably less robust than at the first meeting.
Topics: The range of topics proved to be too ambitious for the time allowed. Teacher preparation and professional development took up the bulk of the time, followed by a rather cursory discussion of assessment tools. The discussion of reading interventions was held over for the next meeting.
Dawnene Hassett, Asst. Prof. of Curriculum and Instruction and new elementary literacy chair, UW-Madison
Tania Mertzman Habeck, Assoc. Prof. of Curriculum and Instruction, UW-Milwaukee
Mary Jo Ziegler, Reading Consultant, Wis. Department of Public Instruction
Troy Couillard, Special Education Team, Wis. Department of Public Instruction
Next Meetings: The Governor’s office will work to set up a schedule of meetings for the next several months. Some of the meetings may be in other parts of the state.
Action: WRC suggests contacting the offices of the Governor, Luther Olsen, Steve Kestell, and Jason Fields and your own legislators to ask for several things:
Arrange for filming the next meeting through Wisconsin Eye
Bring in national experts such as Louisa Moats, Joe Torgesen, and Peggy McCardle to provide Wisconsin with the road map for effective reading instruction, teacher preparation, and professional development . . . top university, DPI, and professional organization leaders at the May 31st meeting asked for a road map and admitted they have not been able to develop one
Arrange the format of the next meeting to allow for more authentic and robust discussion of issues
Teacher Training and Professional Development
The professors felt that the five components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) are generally taught in preparation programs, but that instruction varies widely from one institution to another. Reading course work requirements can vary from 12 credits to just one course. They also felt, as did the teachers on the panel, that there needs to be more practical hand-on experience in the undergraduate program. There was a feeling that teachers “forget” their instruction in reading foundations by the time they graduate and get into the classroom. They have better luck teaching masters level students who already have classroom experience. The linguistic knowledge means very little without a practicum, and we may need to resort to professional development to impart that information. Teachers need to be experts in teaching reading, but many currently don’t feel that way. It is important, especially with RTI coming, to be able to meet the needs of individual students.Both professors and teachers, as well as others on the panel, felt a “road map” of critical information for teacher preparation programs and literacy instruction in schools would be a good idea. This was a point of agreement. Hassett felt that pieces of a plan currently exist, but not a complete road map. The professors and some of the teachers felt that teacher prep programs are doing a better job at teaching decoding than comprehension strategies. They were open to more uniformity in syllabi and some top-down mandates.
Marcia Henry mentioned studies by Joshi, et al. that found that 53% of pre-service teachers and 60% of in-service teachers are unable to correctly answer questions about the structure of the English language. Tony Pedriana cited another Joshi study that showed college professors of reading were equally uninformed about the language, and the majority cannot distinguish between phonemic awareness and phonics. He also said it was very difficult to find out what colleges were teaching; one college recently refused his request to see a syllabus for a reading course. Steve Dykstra read from the former Wisconsin Model Academic Standards and the current Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, which contained incorrect definitions and examples of phonemic awareness. He questioned whether teachers were being adequately prepared in decoding skills. Rep. Steve Kestell was concerned with the assessment that most teachers do not feel like experts in teaching reading, and he wondered if updated techniques for training teachers would make a difference.
Sarah Archibald (aide to Luther Olsen) proposed looking at a more rigorous foundations of reading test, as found in other states, as a requirement for teacher licensure. This would be one way to move toward more uniform instruction in teacher prep programs. Steve Dykstra pointed out that a test alone will not necessarily drive changes in teacher preparation, but publishing the passage results linked to individual colleges or professors would help. Evers indicated that DPI has been looking for several months into teacher testing and licensure.
Gov. Walker asked if the ed schools were looking at the latest trends in teacher preparation to become better. The professors indicated that the ed schools confer with local districts in an effort to improve.
Supt. Evers said it was probably not a good idea that teacher prep programs across Wisconsin vary so much.
Hassett indicated that some flexibility needs to be retained so that urban and rural areas can teach differently. There was some disagreement as to whether teachers of upper grades need to be trained in reading, or at least trained the same way.
Linda Pils pointed out that the amount and quality of professional development for Wisconsin teachers is very spotty. Most panel members felt that a coaching model with ongoing training for both teachers and principals was essential to professional development, but the coaches must be adequately trained. There was some discussion of Professional Development Plans, which are required for relicensure, and whether the areas of development should be totally up the individual teacher as they are now. Steve Dykstra felt that much existing professional development is very poor, and that money and time needs to be spent better. Some things should not count for professional development. Michele Erikson felt that it would be good to require that Professional development be linked to the needs of the students as demonstrated by performance data. Mary Read pointed out that coaching should extend to summer programs.
The main consensus here was that we need a road map for good reading instruction and good teacher training and coaching. What is missing is the substance of that road map, and the experts we will listen to in developing it.
Mary Jo Ziegler presented a list of formal and informal assessment tools used around Wisconsin. Evers pointed out that assessment is a local district decision. Many former Reading First schools use DIBELS or some formal screener that assesses individual skills. Balanced literacy districts generally use something different. Madison, for example, has its own PLA (Primary Language Assessment), which includes running records, an observational survey, word identification, etc. MAP assessments are widely used, but Evers indicated that have not been shown to be reliable/valid below third grade. Dykstra questioned the reliability of MAP on the individual student level for all ages. PALS was discussed, as was the new wireless handheld DIBELS technology that some states are using statewide. Many members mentioned the importance of having multiple methods of assessment. Kathy Champeau delivered an impassioned plea for running records and Clay’s Observational Survey, which she said have been cornerstones of her teaching. Kestell was surprised that so many different tools are being used, and that the goal should be to make use of the data that is gathered. Dykstra, Henry, and Pedriana mentioned that assessment must guide instruction, and Archibald said that the purpose of an assessment must be considered. Couillard said that the Wis. RTI center is producing a questionnaire by which districts can evaluate assessment tools they hear about, and that they will do trainings on multiple and balanced assessments. Dykstra questioned the three-cue reading philosophy that often underlies miscue analysis and running records. no consensus was reached on what types of assessment should be used, or whether they should be more consistent across the state. Hassett questioned the timed component of DIBELS,and Dykstra explained its purpose. Some serious disagreements remain about the appropriateness of certain assessment tools, and their use by untrained teachers who do not know what warning signs to look for.
Evers began the topic of intervention by saying that DPI was still collecting data on districts that score well, and then will look at what intervention techniques they use. Henry suggested deferring discussion of this important topic to the next meeting, as there were only 8 minutes left.

5 reasons to believe progress is being made to address Wisconsin reading crisis

Alan Borsuk:

What if, despite everything else going on, we were able to put together a strong, multi-faceted campaign that made progress in fighting the reading crisis in our midst?
The optimist in me says it might happen, and I point to five things that are going on to support that. (Don’t worry, the pessimist in me will show up before we’re done.)
One: I attended the second meeting of Gov. Scott Walker’s Read to Lead Task Force recently. Unlike most anything else going on in the Capitol, this was a civil, constructive discussion involving people of diverse opinions. The focus of the afternoon-long session was how to improve the way teachers are trained to teach reading.
Walker and Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, disagree strongly on some major school issues, but they sat next to each other, facing university professors, teachers, reading advocates of varying philosophies, and others. There even seemed to be some emerging agreement that the state Department of Public Instruction and university leaders could and should take steps to ensure that teachers are better trained before they get into classrooms and, once there, get more effective help in continuing to develop their skills.
The broad goal of Walker’s task force is to get almost all kids reading on grade level before they leave third grade – a wonderful goal. But reaching it raises a lot of issues, including how to deal with sharply contending schools of thought on how to best teach reading.
Nonetheless, at least for an afternoon, important people were engaged in a serious discussion on a huge issue, and that seemed encouraging.

Related: Wisconsin Reading Coalition.
Madison School District Literacy Program; 2011-12 Proposed Budget Hearing Remarks.
Advocating a Standard Graduation Rate & Madison’s “2004 Elimination of the Racial Achievement Gap in 3rd Grade Reading Scores”. Well worth revisiting.

Delavan child with disabilities in educational limbo Parents appeal state Department of Public Instruction for transfer to virtual school iQ Academy

Karen Herzog, via a kind reader’s email:

A Delavan couple is appealing a decision by the state Department of Public Instruction to support the Waukesha School District’s placement of their son in a bricks-and-mortar school instead of the virtual school they requested because the boy has cerebral palsy and speech impairments.
“We consider this straight-out discrimination, because he once had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan),” said Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, the attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin who filed a petition for review in Walworth County Circuit Court.
The 12-year-old boy no longer has an IEP for special education services and could attend the online school easier than a bricks-and-mortar school because of his physical disabilities, Spitzer-Resnick said. His mother was interested in the virtual school because it would offer a curriculum and structure; she currently home-schools the boy.
“He does have severe physical disabilities, but he’s quite smart,” Spitzer-Resnick said.

Darryl Enriquez:

The Delavan parents of a 12-year-old who cannot speak or move because of cerebral palsy asked a Walworth County judge this week to reverse decisions that prohibit their son from learning at home by using public school computer courses.
The parents, Daniel and Catherine “Cassie” Hartogh, contend that their son Benjamin was discriminated against because he could not get into a virtual school program.
Representing the family is Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin in Madison.
“It’s an awful situation, and my son is suffering from it,” Cassie Hartogh said in a telephone interview.

One vote could change the outcome for Georgia commission charter schools

Douglas Rosenbloom:

It’s not too late. The state Supreme Court has one more chance to get it right.
In the legal equivalent to a 70-yard Hail Mary pass into the end zone, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission’s existence is dependent upon one of four judges — in response to a pending motion for reconsideration — reversing his or her position and voting to not strike down a law that catapulted Georgia to win a $400 million federal Race to the Top grant and recognition as a leader in public school choice.
As an attorney, a former Atlanta Public Schools elementary teacher and a once bright-eyed judicial intern in our state’s highest court, I have struggled to understand the court’s unnecessarily harsh decision. Despite their vote, I do not believe that the four judges who decided to dismantle the commission based on historically inaccurate and intellectually dishonest reasoning condone the mediocrity that permeates our public schools.
Nor do I think that any member of the court believes that low-income Georgia families stuck in these mediocre schools have access to political and economic capital of the magnitude expended by local boards of education in their efforts to preserve sole control over charter schools. But I do suspect these judges, on a very basic, instinctual, “gut-feeling” level, under-appreciate the magnificent danger posed to returning to the pre-2008 days of leaving charter school authorization in the exclusive hands of locally elected school boards.

Support Rhode Island mayoral academies

The Providence Journal:

Better public schools are obviously crucial to the future of Rhode Island’s students, particularly poor and minority ones, and to its overall economic future.
One of the brightest signs in a long time that Rhode Island can turn things around is the mayoral academy concept, which is thriving in Cumberland, serving that community, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Lincoln. Through the bold leadership of the region’s mayors and with the strong support of the General Assembly (especially House Speaker Gordon Fox), it is doing wonderful work.
Dedicated teachers there spend long hours helping students dramatically advance in math, reading and writing, free of union red tape. A mark of the esteem in which parents hold the school is that 877 children vied in April for only 250 open spots, chosen strictly by lottery.
Now, Cranston Mayor Alan Fung is working hard to bring that concept to his city and Providence through a new mayoral-academy program. His plan calls for an academy to grow into two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school over the next decade.
The state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education is slated to decide whether to go forward on June 16. Though Governor Chafee has stripped that board of some of its most dedicated reformers, members owe it to the children of Rhode Island to move forward with this promising effort.

Tom Vander Ark

It all comes down to the quality of instruction. Good schools hire and develop good teachers that provide instruction of consistent quality. And that comes down to execution. Achievement First is a charter network that is very good at execution and, as a result, is one the best networks in the country.
The good news is that the innovative Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) organization convinced AF to come to RI. said: “One of the brightest signs in a long time that Rhode Island can turn things around is the mayoral academy concept, which is thriving in Cumberland, serving that community, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Lincoln. Through the bold leadership of the region’s mayors and with the strong support of the General Assembly (especially House Speaker Gordon Fox), it is doing wonderful work.”
The bad news is that “union members packed a hearing on May 26 and urged state officials to reject this opportunity. Some charged that mayoral academies would “siphon” money from the system.” Unfortunately the ‘protect the system’ argument has Rhode Island politicians wavering.

State school official blasts voucher program expansion to Green Bay

Karen Herzog:

State Superintendent Tony Evers on Monday blasted the Legislature’s budget committee for its late-night vote Friday to expand to Green Bay a program that allows students to attend private and religious schools at taxpayer expense.
The voucher expansion should be removed from the state budget and “a true local public debate needs to occur,” Evers said in a statement. He also referred to the budget committee’s vote to include Racine in the voucher program Thursday night.
“Raising taxes on the citizens of Green Bay and Racine in the dead of night, without public hearings or the support of their locally elected school officials echoes the type of non-representative, undemocratic actions taken by the English parliament against the American colonists through their stamp and tea taxes,” Evers said.
He raised several questions about the action Friday night by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to include in the state budget an expansion of the school voucher program for Green Bay.
Green Bay property taxpayers are now on track to pay millions for private and religious schools, Evers said. “At the same time, their public school system is being cut $40 million, which will certainly raise class sizes and reduce educational opportunities for public school students.”

The End of Men

Hanna Rosin:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way– and its vast cultural consequences.
In the 1970s the biologist Ronald Ericsson came up with a way to separate sperm carrying the male-producing Y chromosome from those carrying the X. He sent the two kinds of sperm swimming down a glass tube through ever-thicker albumin barriers. The sperm with the X chromosome had a larger head and a longer tail, and so, he figured, they would get bogged down in the viscous liquid. The sperm with the Y chromosome were leaner and faster and could swim down to the bottom of the tube more efficiently. Ericsson had grown up on a ranch in South Dakota, where he’d developed an Old West, cowboy swagger. The process, he said, was like “cutting out cattle at the gate.” The cattle left flailing behind the gate were of course the X’s, which seemed to please him. He would sometimes demonstrate the process using cartilage from a bull’s penis as a pointer.
In the late 1970s, Ericsson leased the method to clinics around the U.S., calling it the first scientifically proven method for choosing the sex of a child. Instead of a lab coat, he wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, and doled out his version of cowboy poetry. (People magazine once suggested a TV miniseries based on his life called Cowboy in the Lab.) The right prescription for life, he would say, was “breakfast at five-thirty, on the saddle by six, no room for Mr. Limp Wrist.” In 1979, he loaned out his ranch as the backdrop for the iconic “Marlboro Country” ads because he believed in the campaign’s central image–“a guy riding on his horse along the river, no bureaucrats, no lawyers,” he recalled when I spoke to him this spring. “He’s the boss.” (The photographers took some 6,500 pictures, a pictorial record of the frontier that Ericsson still takes great pride in.)

Related: The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers.

Beyond the School: Exploring a Systemic Approach to School Turnaround

Joel Knudson, Larisa Shambaugh & Jennifer O’Day

Educators have long grappled with the challenge presented by chronically underperforming schools. Environments that consistently fail to prepare students for higher levels of education threaten opportunities for high school graduation, postsecondary education, and career success. The U.S. Department of Education reinforced the urgency of reversing sustained poor performance in early 2009 when it identified intensive supports and effective interventions in our lowest-achieving schools as one of its four pillars of education reform. However, federal and state policies have often situated the cause–and thus the remedies–for persistent low performance at the school level. This brief uses the experience of eight California school districts–all members of the California Collaborative on District Reform–to suggest a more systemic approach to school turnaround.
We explore the district perspective on school turnaround by describing several broad themes that emerged across the eight districts in the California Collaborative on District Reform. We also profile three of these districts to illustrate specific strategies that can create a coherent district-wide approach to turnaround. Building on these district perspectives, we explore considerations for turnaround efforts in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Wisconsin Governor’s Read to Lead Task Force 5/31/2011 Meeting

via a kind reader’s email:

Notice of Commission Meeting
Governor’s Read to Lead Task Force
Governor Scott Walker, Chair
Superintendent Tony Evers, Vice-Chair
Members: Mara Brown, Kathy Champeau, Steve Dykstra, Michele Erikson, Representative Jason Fields, Marcia Henry, Representative Steve Kestell, Rachel Lander, Senator Luther Olsen, Tony Pedriana, Linda Pils, and Mary Read.
Guests: Professors from UW colleges of education
Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:00pm
Office of the Governor, Governor’s Conference Room
 115 East State Capitol 
Madison, WI 53702
Welcome and opening remarks by Governor Walker and Superintendent Evers.
Introductions from task force members and guest members representing UW colleges of education.
A discussion of teacher training and professional development including current practices and ways to improve.
Short break.
A discussion of reading interventions including current practices and ways to improve.
A discussion of future topics and future meeting dates.
Governor Scott Walker
Individuals needing assistance, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, should contact the Governor’s office at (608) 266-1212, 24 hours before this meeting to make necessary arrangements.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Deal Reached in Albany to Cap Property Taxes

Danny Hakim:

Pledging to provide relief to highly taxed suburban homeowners, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they had agreed to place a 2 percent limit on property tax increases in a plan that rivals the toughest such measures in the nation.
The proposed property tax cap, an agreement in principle that must be approved by the Legislature, is aimed at reversing the economic decline in many parts of the state outside of New York City. It also seeks to curb soaring property tax bills in areas like Long Island, Westchester County and pockets of upstate New York, where residents are facing among the highest property taxes in the nation.
Some residents, particularly those who are older and live on fixed incomes, are being forced out of their homes by rising property taxes.
“It is going to be a game changer, and it’s going to change the trajectory of this state,” Mr. Cuomo said.
New York has long had some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and those taxes increased by 5.5 percent, on average, each year from 1999 to 2009, according to statistics provided by the Cuomo administration.

Discounting the College Expense Bottom Line

Kevin Kiley:

Private colleges and universities discounted tuition at unprecedented levels during the recession in a way that slowed down or reversed the growth in net revenue from tuition, according to a new report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
The discount that surveyed colleges and universities offered for full-time, first-year students through grants and other forms of need-based and merit aid hit an all-time high of 42.4 percent in 2010, a jump from about 39 percent in 2007. The report estimates that 88 percent of students at the institutions surveyed received some institutional aid, and those students paid about half of the college or university’s sticker price.

The Math of School Heartbreak in Levittown

Michael Sokolove

WHEN he first introduced cuts at a public meeting last month, Samuel Lee, the superintendent of the Bristol Township School District, was plainspoken and direct. He did not say that everyone would pull together and the children would get the same great education, but, rather, that worthy programs would be dismantled and young teachers would lose jobs. “Everything that is going to be presented tonight is not good for our kids,” he said as about 300 teachers, parents and students looked on. “We are heartbroken.”
I grew up in blue-collar Levittown, and have written about it several times for this newspaper as a window into national sentiment. The community was deeply skeptical of Barack Obama early in 2008, then voted for him in huge numbers in the fall. In 2010, the local Democratic congressman was turned out of office amid a wave of national anger over the economy.
Over the past several weeks, I have watched as local officials and community residents confronted a budget shortfall that threatens to reverse hard-won gains in schools that once performed poorly. But I did not hear much of the polarization, argumentation and point-scoring that the cable news universe reflects as the totality of our civic discourse. In Levittown, this time around, the mood is one of sadness, loss and resignation. “We’re all struggling in this community,” W. Earl Bruck, an electrician, and chairman of the board’s budget committee, told those at the meeting. “I can tell you that I’ve been out of work for 56 weeks.”

Madison School District Literacy Program; 2011-12 Proposed Budget Hearing Remarks

We urge the Board of Education to approve and implement the initiatives and budget proposed for the school-wide literacy program [Public Appearance Remarks]. It is deplorable that heretofore there has been no systematic plan to address the reading and writing shortcomings of the District. These shortcomings are the most fundamental causative factor contributing to the poor achievement performance of our students. The proposed design of systemic changes to the curriculum, instructional strategies, engagement of teachers, support staff, students and parents/other adults and the realignment of financial and other resources will result in measurable student growth. Board adoption of the $650,000.00 2011-12 budget considerations is an absolute necessity of the very highest priority.
Our thanks and compliments to the Board and the administration for undertaking the assessment of literacy in the District. However, the Board must take a greatly increased leadership role in demanding the vigorous evaluation and assessment all programs, services and personnel throughout the District. There must be demonstrable commitment and evidence of the systematic implementation of the strategic objective of the five-year District Strategic Plan to address the woefully inadequate and insufficient data upon which to make decisions about curriculum, instruction and performance of students and staff.
The Board must not give any support for an increase in property taxes in finalizing the 2011-12 budget. Nor, is there any justification for using any amount of “under-levy carry-over” if such authorization should be re-instated by the state. There is no evidence to support an increase in taxes. We must be able to prioritize the expenditure of revenues available within the limits established. The Board has already demonstrated it cannot effectively manage its allocations to areas of highest need to strengthen the impact on curriculum, instruction and performance affecting student learning. Until and unless the Board can demonstrate a higher and more effective level of leadership with its decisions and priorities it cannot be trusted with more money that will only get the same results.
We support an increase in allocations for maintenance and electrical infrastructure up-grades conditional upon 1) re-allocation of existing funds to these areas; 2) clear and enumerated priorities, established in advance, for maintenance projects that are specifically related to safety issues; and 3) electrical infrastructure up-grades specifically related to priorities established for improvements and expansion of technology as identified in the Technology Plan for use in student learning, instruction, business services and communications with the public.
The Board must not give approval to the proposed amendment for providing staff with year-end bonuses. This is absolutely the wrong message, for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. It cannot be justified in ‘rewarding’ those staff who wrongfully abdicated their responsibilities in the classroom to the students; by insulting those staff who did attempt to fulfill their responsibilities; as well as insulting the parents and students harmed by those detrimental actions. It would be far better to allocate the ‘savings funds’ to resources actively and directly impacting student learning. The Board must make a commitment to providing leadership toward academic improvements and to creating a working culture of mutual trust and collaboration with employees and taxpayers.
For further information contact: Don Severson, 577-0851

School board member Ed Hughes wants to give some docked pay back to Madison teachers (Proposal Withdrawn Later in the Day)

Matthew DeFour:

Hughes is making the proposal [56K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment] as an amendment to the district’s budget.
Funding would come from the $1.3 million windfall the district will get from docking the pay of 1,769 teachers who were absent without an excuse on one or more days between Feb. 16-18 and 21.
The district closed school during those four days because of the high number of staff members who called in sick to attend protests over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed changes to public sector collective bargaining.
“Under the circumstances it seemed to me the school district shouldn’t necessarily profit from that, because the teachers agreed to make up the time in a way that took away planning time for them,” said Hughes, who is considering a run for school board president when new officers are elected Monday.
Hughes is also proposing increasing the district’s proposed property tax levy for next year by about $2 million to pay for maintenance and technology projects and any costs associated with the district’s implementation of a state-imposed talented-and-gifted education plan.
“It seems goofy that we give away $1 million and then raise property taxes [50K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment],” board member Lucy Mathiak said.

Jay Sorgi:

If a school board member in Madison gets his way, the district would used money it saved when teachers forced schools to shut down during the budget debate to award end of the year bonuses to teachers.
WTMJ partner station WIBA Radio in Madison says that teachers in Madison would receive $200 gift cards as year-end bonuses.
“Whenever we can, we need to show some kind of tangible appreciation for the extremely hard work our teachers and staff do,” said Ed Hughes, a member of the Madison school board.
“They’ve had a particularly tough year as you know, given that they kind of became political footballs in the legislature. We’re ending up slashing their take home pay by a substantial amount, pretty much because we have to.”

Additional links:

Related: 5/26/2005 MTI & The Madison School Board by Ed Hughes.

Seattle’s Ingraham parents 1, Seattle Schools 0

Linda Thomas:

Parents, teachers and students have been in shock since the Seattle School District’s interim Superintendent decided to fire a popular principal for little reason, they thought. They fought. They won.
This afternoon Superintendent Susan Enfield reversed her decision about dismissing Ingraham Principal Martin Floe, and sent the high school’s staff this letter:

When I was appointed Interim Superintendent, it was with the clear charge to strengthen opportunities for all students to learn. You asked me to bring high levels of transparency and accountability to this effort. The decision I made last Tuesday about the leadership of Ingraham High School Principal Martin Floe reflects my efforts to realize these commitments.
However, I also know that a good leader listens. After extensive conversations with Ingraham High School staff and the community, I have decided to renew Mr. Floe’s contact for the 2011-12 school year, under the condition that he continue on a plan of improvement, which I, along with his Executive Director, will monitor throughout the year.

Single Standard vs. Multiple Standards (Or Checker vs. Shanker)

Ze’ev Wurman & Bill Evers:

ome people who favor national standards have pointed to the variability among states as making comparisons difficult and have been quick to point to national standards and tests as a consistent, nationwide, uniform system to judge all schools in the same way. No one has been more outspoken on those points than the Fordham Institute, whose 2007 The Proficiency Illusion report was touted far and wide. It was followed in 2009 by another Fordham report, The Accountability Illusion, that took states to task not only for having distinct definitions of proficiency, but also with fuzzing the issue even more by playing with other NCLB accountability rules. Checker Finn came out on its publication declaring:
“This report’s crucial finding is that – contrary to what the average American likely believes – there is no common, nationwide accountability system for measuring school performance under NCLB. The AYP system is idiosyncratic, even random and opaque. Without a common standard to help determine whether a given school is successful or not, its fate under NCLB is determined by a set of arcane rules created by each state…”

Wisconsin Voucher program needs accountability

Tony Evers and Howard Fuller:

The children of Milwaukee deserve a quality education regardless of whether they attend Milwaukee Public Schools, a charter school or a private school through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
A key element to support quality is transparency. Clear, easy to understand and readily available information, including test score results, helps parents and the public evaluate their schools. Traditional public and charter schools throughout the state have been using publicly reported test score results and other data to drive school improvement for years. This transparency was extended to the voucher program through laws enacted in the 2009-’11 budget.
This fall, for the first time, students attending private schools through the state’s voucher program had their academic progress assessed with the same statewide tests as their public school peers. Results reported this spring showed that some public, charter and private schools in Milwaukee are doing very well, but too many are not providing the education our children need and deserve.
We believe that students in the voucher program, receiving taxpayer support to attend private Milwaukee schools, must continue to take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination. Standardized tests, including the WKCE, do not paint an entire picture of a student, and many private schools participating in the voucher program take other quality tests. We need to put all the schools in MPS, charter and choice programs on a common report card.

Comments on the Madison School District’s Literacy Initiative and Budget Proposal

First of all, our thanks and compliments to you and the administration for undertaking the assessment of literacy in the District. Thanks also to staff and outside advisors for their contributions to making the Report and Recommendations the most meaningful and significant direction for systemic change toward achieving measurable results in student achievement and staff performance in the District’s recent history.
We urge the Board of Education support of the Literacy Report AND adoption of the recommendations for implementation of the initiatives and for the budget proposed in the Superintendent’s Preliminary Budget for 2011-12. It is vital for the Board to support the direction of the initiatives for balanced literacy with integrity at all grades levels of the District. It is deplorable that heretofore there has been no systematic plan to address the reading and writing shortcomings of the District that are the most fundamental causative factor contributing to the “achievement gap”. Finally, we have pro-active leadership from Dr. Sue Abplanalp, who has a full grasp of the organizational development and change processes critical and significant to the implementation and sustainability of difference- making strategies. The proposed design of systemic changes to the curriculum, instructional strategies, engagement of teachers, support staff, students and parents/other adults and the realignment of financial and other resources will result in measurable student growth. Board adoption of the $650,000.00 2011-12 budget considerations is an absolute necessity of the very highest priority. We urge you to get on with it. Thank you.
For further information contact: Don Severson, 577-0851
Print version: 222K PDF

Teachers, MTI head should offer apologies

Tom Consigny:

The April 28 State Journal editorial urged punishment of sick note scammers (some teachers and doctors during the recent protests), and included a column by Chris Rickert titled “Don’t cry for teachers who choose early retirement.” Many taxpayers in Madison and Wisconsin would say “amen.”
It’s ironic and hypocritical that a national radio ad expresses support for Teacher Appreciation Week and touts teachers so soon after over 1,700 Madison teachers didn’t show up for work — 84 of them turning in fraudulent sick notes. The teachers used students as pawns at protest marches and contributed to protester damage at our Capitol.
In the minds of many property taxpayers and even some students, teachers have lost much respect and trust. This could be reversed if teachers and their arrogant union boss John Matthews would express in a public statement regret for their selfish and illegal actions.

Wisconsin Public Hearing on Special Needs Scholarship

Brian Pleva Government Affairs Associate: American Federation for Children-Wisconsin, via a kind reader’s email:

Does contain the info you need?Good afternoon!
I am writing to you because you recently expressed an interest in the bipartisan Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Act (Assembly Bill 110).
As you may know, the bill would allow parents to enroll their special needs children in the public or private school of their choice with the education dollars following the child to the new school. The bill, introduced by Representatives Michelle Litjens, Jason Fields & Evan Wynn, and Senators Leah Vukmir & Terry Moulton, has impressive momentum:
-AB 110 has attracted Republican, Democrat, and Independent cosponsors
-32 members of the Assembly have signed on to AB 110, which is over one-third of that house’s current membership
-5 members of the Assembly Committee on Education have signed-on to AB 110, which is almost half of the 11-member committee
Fortunately, Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Steve Kestell decided today to schedule a Public Hearing on the Special Needs Scholarship Act for 10:00 am, next Tuesday, May 3rd.
This opportunity can pave the way toward making Special Needs Scholarships in Wisconsin a reality. It is crucial that as many affected families and school leaders as possible attend this public hearing and tell committee members, in their own words, what these scholarships would mean to them.
Please respond to this email and confirm whether you would be able to advocate for this legislation at the public hearing.
One parent wrote on our Facebook page, “It’s so important! Why doesn’t EVERYBODY get that???!!” It may be difficult to comprehend, but there are powerful, special interest groups that don’t get it and will be working to defeat this bipartisan legislation.
While an impressive list of parents who wish to testify is growing, we know that opponents of education reform are always represented at these hearings. Therefore, please forward this email to friends, family, and colleagues who you think will be supportive. The momentum is encouraging, but we must keep it up!
If you have any questions about the bill or public hearing, please feel free to contact me, and check out our website:
Thank you!
Brian Pleva
Government Affairs Associate
American Federation for Children-Wisconsin
(608) 279-9484
Committee on Education
The committee will hold a public hearing on the following items at the time specified below:
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
10:00 AM
417 North (GAR Hall)
State Capitol
Assembly Bill 110
Relating to: creating the Special Needs Scholarship Program for disabled pupils, granting rule-making authority, and making an appropriation.
By Representatives Litjens, Fields, Wynn, Knudson, Nass, Pridemore, Thiesfeldt, Vos, Kleefisch, LeMahieu, Nygren, Strachota, Bernier, Bies, Brooks, Endsley, Farrow, Honadel, Jacque, Knilans, Kooyenga, Kramer, Krug, Kuglitsch, T. Larson, Mursau, Petryk, Rivard, Severson, Spanbauer, Tiffany and Ziegelbauer; cosponsored by Senators Vukmir, Moulton, Galloway and Darling.
An Executive Session may be held on AB 71 at the conclusion of the public hearing.
Representative Steve Kestell

Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Assembly Bill 110 Summary (PDF).

Important voice missing in blue ribbon reading discussion

Susan Troller

While working on another story this morning, I kept checking Wisconsin Eye’s live coverage of the first meeting of Gov. Scott Walker’s blue ribbon task force on reading.
Sitting next to the Governor at the head of the table was State Superintendent Tony Evers, flanked by Sen. Luther Olsen, chair of the Education Committee and Rep. Steve Kestell. Also on hand were representatives from organizations like the Wisconsin State Reading Association (Kathy Champeau), teachers and various other reading experts, including a former Milwaukee area principal, Anthony Pedriana, who has written an influential book on reading and student achievement called “Leaving Johnny Behind.” Also on hand was Steven Dykstra of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition.
Dykstra, in particular, had a lot to say, but the discussion of how well Wisconsin kids are learning to read — a subject that gets heated among education experts as well as parents and teachers — struck me as quite engaging and generally cordial.
There seemed to be consensus surrounding the notion that it’s vitally important for students to become successful readers in the early grades, and that goal should be an urgent priority in Wisconsin.
But how the state is currently measuring up to its own past performance, and to other states, is subject to some debate. Furthermore, there isn’t a single answer or widespread agreement on precisely how to make kids into better readers.


K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: America’s AAA Bond Rating Under Threat

Gavyn Davies:

Standard & Poor’s surprised markets today with a warning that the AAA rating of US debt is now on “negative watch”, implying that there is a one-in-three chance that the US might lose its triple-A status in the next two years. Although there was nothing new in the underlying data cited by S&P, their judgment has clearly been impacted by the sharp political differences which have recently emerged in Washington about how to cut the deficit.
Both political parties agree that a large fiscal consolidation plan is needed, but they have widely different points of view on how the savings should be found. This has caused S&P to express scepticism about whether Washington can reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan and then stick to it over a series of difficult years.

via Wendy McElroy:

That’s how much the U.S. government spends, in inflation-adjusted dollars, per capita. Which means it’s adjusted for both inflation and population increase. And note that that graph has a logarithmic scale.
A hundred years ago, federal spending for each person was the equivalent of $200 in today’s dollars. After FDR, with all of his massive public spending, it was $1,000. This year, it’s over $12,000. How long can this continue?

James Cooper:

For the first time since the Great Depression, households are receiving more income from the government than they are paying the government in taxes. The combination of more cash from various programs, called transfer payments, and lower taxes has been a double-barreled boost to consumers’ buying power, while also blowing a hole in the deficit. The 1930s offer a cautionary tale: The only other time government income support exceeded taxes paid was from 1931 to 1936. That trend reversed in 1936, after a recovery was underway, and the economy fell back into a second leg of recession during 1937 and 1938.

If Wisconsin is so careless with some schools’ reputations . . .

Patrick McIlheran:

The state, if you recall, released a snapshot of student performance in Milwaukee’s school choice program last week. Tony Evers, head of the Department of Public Instruction, used the numbers to make a political statement against school choice, which he opposes.

But the figures had issues, and now still more are emerging. One of the surprises in the figures were how poorly one particular choice school, Tamarack Waldorf, did.

It’s surprising because Tamarack is by reputation a good school, unusually deliberate in its curriculum and rigorous in the peculiar way of schools in the Waldorf movement – where, for instance, children do not just have a chapter on photosynthesis but, instead, spend a couple of weeks learning the chemistry behind it and studying the geometry of branches and doing a project on forest ecology and reading literature about trees and taking a field trip to the park, the better to appreciate art involving trees and to make some of their own. Rather than taking tests, the children produce books to demonstrate their learning.

The kind of people who send their kids to such a school are generally engaged and intellectual parents – and, generally, not favorably disposed to standardized testing.

So an unusual number of Tamarack parents opted their children out of the state’s tests, as is the right of any parent in the state. You can see the figures here: In math and reading, about 55% of choice students at Tamarack didn’t take the state tests.

The state’s figures say that 42% of Tamarack students did well – scored “proficient” or “advanced” in reading, and 24% did in math. Those aren’t good scores. But they aren’t real, either.

As Tamarack administrator Jean Kacanek wrote to parents, “The data published is not complete because the Department of Public Instruction averaged scores of ‘0’ for each MPCP student in grades 4-8 at Tamarack who did not take the test. As one might expect for a Waldorf school, with a philosophy averse to standardized testing, many parents chose to opt out of the test.”

Much more on the oft-criticized WKCE, here.

MISSED ADJUSTMENTS and OPPORTUNITIES RATIFICATION OF Madison School District/Madison Teachers Collective Bargaining Agreement 2011-2013

The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education and the Madison Teachers, Inc. ratified an expedited Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2011-2013. Several significant considerations were ignored for the negative impact and consequences on students, staff and taxpayers.
First and foremost, there was NO ‘urgent’ need (nor ANY need at all) to ‘negotiate’ a new contract. The current contract doesn’t expire until June 30, 2011. Given the proposals regarding school finance and collective bargaining processes in the Budget Repair Bill before the legislature there were significant opportunities and expectations for educational, management and labor reforms. With such changes imminent, there was little value in ‘locking in’ the restrictive old provisions for conducting operations and relationships and shutting the door on different opportunities for increasing educational improvements and performances in the teaching and learning culture and costs of educating the students of the district.
A partial listing of the missed adjustments and opportunities with the ratification of the teacher collective bargaining agreement should be instructive.

  • Keeping the ‘step and advancement’ salary schedule locks in automatic salary increases; thereby establishing a new basis annually for salary adjustments. The schedule awards increases solely on tenure and educational attainment. This also significantly inhibits movement for development and implementation of ‘pay for performance’ and merit.
  • Continues the MOU agreement requiring 50% of teachers in 4-K programs (public and private sites combined) to be state certified and union members
  • Continues required union membership. There are 2700 total or 2400 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers, numbers rounded. Full-time teachers pay $1100.00 (pro-rated for part-time) per year in automatic union dues deducted from paychecks and processed by the District. With 2400 FTE multiplied by $1100 equals $2,640,000 per year multiplied by two years of the collective bargaining unit equals $5,280,000 to be paid by teachers to their union (Madison Teachers Inc., for its union activities). These figures do not include staff members in the clerical and teacher assistant bargaining units who also pay union dues, but at a lower rate.
  • Continues to limit and delay processes for eliminating non-performing teachers Inhibits abilities of the District to determine the length and configuration of the school day, length and configuration of the school year calendar including professional development, breaks and summer school
  • Inhibits movement and placement of teachers where needed and best suited
  • Restricts adjustments to class sizes and teacher-pupil ratios
  • Continues very costly grievance options and procedures and litigation
  • Inhibits the District from developing attendance area level teacher/administrator councils for collaboration in problem-solving, built on trust and relationships in a non-confrontational environment
  • Continues costly extra-duties and extra-curricular agreements and processes
  • Restricts flexibility for teacher input and participation in professional development, curriculum selection and development and performance evaluation at the building level
  • Continues Teacher Emeritus Retirement Program (TERP), costing upwards to $3M per year
  • Does not require teacher sharing in costs of health insurance premiums
  • Did not immediately eliminate extremely expensive Preferred Provider (WPS) health insurance plan
  • Did not significantly address health insurance reforms
  • Does not allow for reviews and possible reforms of Sick Leave and Disability Leave policies
  • Continues to be the basis for establishing “me too” contract agreements with administrators for salaries and benefits. This has impacts on CBAs with other employee units, i.e., support staff, custodians, food service employees, etc.
  • Continues inflexibilities for moving staff and resources based on changes and interpretations of state and federal program supported mandates
  • Inhibits educational reforms related to reading and math and other core courses, as well as reforms in the high schools and alternative programs

Each and every one of the above items has a financial cost associated with it. These are the so-called ‘hidden costs’ of the collective bargaining process that contribute to the over-all costs of the District and to restrictions for undertaking reforms in the educational system and the District. These costs could have been eliminated, reduced, minimized and/ or re-allocated in order to support reforms and higher priorities with more direct impact on academic achievement and staff performance.
For further information and discussion contact:
Don Severson President
Active Citizens for Education
608 577-0851
100k PDF version

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Government Employment Growth Compared to the Private Sector

If you want to understand better why so many states–from New York to Wisconsin to California–are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.
It gets worse. More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees. Is it any wonder that so many states and cities cannot pay their bills?
Every state in America today except for two–Indiana and Wisconsin–has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods. Consider California, which has the highest budget deficit in the history of the states. The not-so Golden State now has an incredible 2.4 million government employees–twice as many as people at work in manufacturing. New Jersey has just under two-and-a-half as many government employees as manufacturers. Florida’s ratio is more than 3 to 1. So is New York’s.

Economic growth and the resulting tax base expansion is, of course critical to public and private sector employment.

Appeals court sides with Seattle schools over math text choice

Katherine Long:

The Washington State Court of Appeals has reversed an earlier decision in King County Superior Court that found Seattle’s choice of a new high-school math series was arbitrary and capricious.
The appellate court found no basis for the Superior Court’s conclusion in February 2010 that the Seattle School board “was willful and unreasoning in coming to its decision” when it chose the Discovering Math series of textbooks for algebra and geometry in high school math.
The school district has been using the series since the start of the 2009 school year.
Some parents have criticized the Discovering Math series, saying it is inferior to other series and that its emphasis on verbal descriptions makes it difficult for some students to understand, especially those for whom English is a second language.

Much more on the Seattle Discovery Math lawsuit, here.

‘Education was the main thing’

Mark Lett:

Richard Riley worked the levers of politics, government and education for more than a half-century by giving respect, taking advice, setting expectations, staying focused and never giving up.
Most of all, he never gave up.
As it turned out, Riley did it right. His career has been as successful as it has been tenacious. Now 79 and living and working in his hometown of Greenville, Riley:
Mobilized support to overwhelm anti-tax sentiment and pass a tax increase for public education in 1984, producing what Southern historian Walter Edgar called “one of the most important pieces of education legislation ever passed in South Carolina.”

Building Teacher Evaluation Systems: Learning From Leading Efforts

The Aspen Institute:

Ambitious reforms across the country are reshaping teacher evaluation and performance management. Designing new systems for measuring teacher effectiveness and using that information to increase student achievement are at the heart of these efforts and at the center of important policy debates. Yet little information exists about how these systems work in practice and how to use evaluations in concert with other levers to improve teaching and learning.
As policymakers and education leaders seek to accelerate reform in this area, it is essential to learn from efforts already underway. The Education & Society Program published three new reports: profiles of the performance management work in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and the Achievement First (AF) charter school network; and a synthesis of issues that emerge from the two profiles. Both DCPS and AF are at the forefront of efforts to re-design teacher evaluation, performance management, and compensation policies. The commonalities, distinctions, and early lessons learned in these initiatives represent an important learning laboratory for the field.

Losing Our Way

Bob Herbert:

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.
Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

GOP seeks to expand school voucher program

Matthew DeFour:

A Republican Assembly leader plans to add to the state budget bill an expansion of Milwaukee’s voucher program to other school districts, potentially giving more families in cities such as Madison access to private and religious schools.
Voucher advocates say the time is ripe to expand the program to other cities, especially with Republicans in control of state government and a recent study suggesting students in the 20-year-old Milwaukee program are testing as well or better than their public school counterparts, with a lower cost per pupil.
They also argue that vouchers would level the playing field for private schools, which have seen enrollment decline as public charter schools have gained popularity.
But voucher opponents say expansion would further cripple public schools, which already face an $834 million cut in state funding over the next two years.
And state test scores to be released Tuesday, which for the first time include 10,600 Milwaukee voucher students, could suggest they are testing no better than poor students in the Milwaukee Public Schools.
“Given the proposed unprecedented cuts to public education as well as results from our statewide assessments, I question plans in the 2011-13 state budget for expanding the choice program in Milwaukee or anywhere else in Wisconsin,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said.

Obama’s War on Schools

Diane Ravitch:

Over the past year, I have traveled the nation speaking to nearly 100,000 educators, parents, and school-board members. No matter the city, state, or region, those who know schools best are frightened for the future of public education. They see no one in a position of leadership who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.
They feel keenly betrayed by President Obama. Most voted for him, hoping he would reverse the ruinous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of George W. Bush. But Obama has not sought to turn back NCLB. His own approach, called Race to the Top, is even more punitive than NCLB. And though over the past week the president has repeatedly called on Congress to amend the law, his proposed reforms are largely cosmetic and would leave the worst aspects of NCLB intact.

Teachers must be evaluated by what students learn

Doug Lasken & Bill Evers:

Students in California public schools are not achieving at the levels they should. Too many students are unprepared for jobs or have to take remedial courses when they start college. In California, we judge student achievement through student scores on statewide tests. These tests assess how much students know about subject-matter content that is specified in an official set of state academic-content standards. Research has long shown that effective teachers are among the best ways to bring up student achievement. But in order to improve teaching effectiveness, it is helpful to know where the challenges are.
We’ve heard a lot in California recently about the move to factor student test scores from statewide standards-based tests into teacher evaluations. Yet did you know that for more than a decade, it has been the law in California to do just that?

On Quickly Extending Madison Teacher Contracts; Board to Meet Tomorrow @ 2:00p.m.

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Thursday, March 10 was an eventful day. With the approval by the state Assembly of legislation stripping public employees of nearly all collective bargaining rights, it appears that our school district has about a day to negotiate with our teachers and other bargaining units represented by MTI about an extension of our current collective bargaining agreement, which expires at the end of June. (We have already agreed to extensions for our two bargaining units represented by AFSCME and for our trades workers.)
Board members have received hundreds of emails from our teachers and others requesting that we extend their contracts and that we do it quickly. Here is the response I sent to as many of the emails as I could on Thursday night. I apologize to those to whose messages I simply didn’t have time to respond.

Thanks for contacting me to urge the School Board to extend the contract for our teachers and other represented employees.
This is a difficult situation for all of us and one that all of us would have preferred to have avoided. However, it is here now and we have to deal with it.
Like all our Board members, I respect, value and like our teachers. I want to do whatever I can to ease the stress and uncertainty that we’re all feeling, but I’m also required to act in the best interest of the school district and all of our students.
The situation before us is that if we do not extend the contract with our teachers, then, once the legislation approved today goes into effect, collective bargaining will effectively come to an end.
The School Board met tonight to discuss the terms of a contract that we could responsibly enter into for the next two years, given the uncertainty we face. We agreed on a proposal, which we submitted to MTI this evening. Like our previous settlements with other bargaining units, the proposed contract gives us the flexibility we need to adapt to the requirements imposed on us by the new state law, as well as the reduced spending limits and reduction in state aid that are parts of the proposed budget bill.
The proposed contract is written so that it gives the District discretion over changes in salary and in contributions to retirement accounts and to the cost of health insurance. I recognize that you can feel uncomfortable about the extent of the discretion that our proposal reserves for the school district. We have to write the contract this way, because any change in the contract – like re-opening the contract to adjust its terms – triggers application of the new state law that abolishes nearly all collective bargaining. So we have to draft the contract in a way that any adjustment in its economic terms does not amount to an amendment or change to the contract, and providing the school district with discretion to make such changes seems like the only way to do this.

The Madison School Board apparently is going to meet tomorrow @ 2:00p.m. to discuss extending the teacher contracts, though I don’t see notice on their website.
Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School Board scheduled a meeting for 2 p.m. Saturday to approve a deal with its unions before a Republican law to strip collective bargaining takes effect.
The vote is scheduled less than 48 hours after the School District and Madison Teachers Inc. exchanged initial proposals Thursday night at a hastily called School Board meeting.
The two proposals, released by the district Friday afternoon, called for extending contracts until June 30, 2013, and freezing wages, but differed on benefit concessions and other details.
MTI asked that teachers be granted amnesty and given full pay for four days missed last month. Hundreds of teachers called in sick on Feb. 16, 17, 18 and 21 to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit collective bargaining. Walker signed the bill Friday after the Legislature approve it Wednesday and Thursday.
MTI also asked for the missed days to be made up by adding 8 to 15 minutes to the end of every school day through the rest of the year. That would fulfill a state requirement for instructional time.
The MTI proposal did not include any employee contributions to pension and health insurance premiums over the next two years, something other unions around the state seeking contract extensions proposed to their school boards.
The district’s proposal called for allowing it to set pension contributions, change its health insurance carrier and employees’ share of premiums, set class sizes, and increase or decrease wages at its discretion, among other things. The district faces a $16 million reduction in funding under Walker’s 2011-13 budget proposal.

Don Severson: Considerations Proposed for the Madison School District 2011-2012 Budget 300K PDF, via email:

The legislative passage of the bill to limit collective bargaining for public employees provides significant opportunities for Wisconsin school districts to make major improvements in how they deliver instructional, business and other services. Instead of playing the “ain’t it awful’ game the districts can make ‘systemic’ changes to address such challenges as evaluating programs, services and personnel; setting priorities for the allocation and re-allocation of available resources; closing “the achievement gap”; and reading and mathematics proficiency, to name a ‘short list’. The Madison Metropolitan School District can and should conduct their responsibilities in different ways to attain more effective and efficient results–and, they can do this without cutting teacher positions and without raising taxes. Following are some actions the District must take to accomplish desirable, attainable, sustainable, cost effective and accountable results.

Bipartisan Group Backs Common School Curriculum

A bipartisan group of educators and business and labor leaders announced on Monday their support for a common curriculum that states could adopt for public schools across the nation.
The proposal, if it gains traction, would go beyond the common academic standards in English and mathematics that about 40 states adopted last year, by providing specific guidelines for schools and teachers about what should be taught in each grade.
For decades, similar calls for common academic standards, curricular materials and tests for use nationwide — the educational model used by many countries in Europe and Asia — have been beaten back by believers in America’s tradition of local control of schools.

New York Democrat Governor Cuomo Seeks Speedy Change in Teacher Evaluations

Thomas Kaplan:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday that he would introduce legislation to speed the implementation of a statewide system to evaluate teachers’ performance.
His announcement came minutes after the State Senate passed legislation sought by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that would reverse a rule protecting long-serving New York City teachers from layoffs regardless of their effectiveness.
Mr. Cuomo’s proposal would have far broader implications, affecting school districts across the state. But it would not affect the thousands of layoffs that Mr. Bloomberg maintains he will be forced to carry out because of cuts in state aid.
Rather, Mr. Cuomo is seeking to accelerate the introduction of new standards for teacher and principal evaluation that the state’s Education Department, with the support of teachers’ unions, has been developing since last year.

What Wisconsin reveals about public workers and political power.

The Wall Street Journal:

The raucous Wisconsin debate over collective bargaining may be ugly at times, but it has been worth it for the splendid public education. For the first time in decades, Americans have been asked to look under the government hood at the causes of runaway spending. What they are discovering is the monopoly power of government unions that have long been on a collision course with taxpayers. Though it arrived in Madison first, this crack-up was inevitable.
We first started running the nearby chart on the trends in public and private union membership many years ago. It documents the great transformation in the American labor movement over the latter decades of the 20th century. A movement once led by workers in private trades and manufacturing evolved into one dominated by public workers at all levels of government but especially in the states and cities.
The trend is even starker if you go back a decade earlier. In 1960, 31.9% of the private work force belonged to a union, compared to only 10.8% of government workers. By 2010, the numbers had more than reversed, with 36.2% of public workers in unions but only 6.9% in the private economy.

Robert Barro:

How ironic that Wisconsin has become ground zero for the battle between taxpayers and public- employee labor unions. Wisconsin was the first state to allow collective bargaining for government workers (in 1959), following a tradition where it was the first to introduce a personal income tax (in 1911, before the introduction of the current form of individual income tax in 1913 by the federal government).
Labor unions like to portray collective bargaining as a basic civil liberty, akin to the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and religion. For a teachers union, collective bargaining means that suppliers of teacher services to all public school systems in a state–or even across states–can collude with regard to acceptable wages, benefits and working conditions. An analogy for business would be for all providers of airline transportation to assemble to fix ticket prices, capacity and so on. From this perspective, collective bargaining on a broad scale is more similar to an antitrust violation than to a civil liberty.
In fact, labor unions were subject to U.S. antitrust laws in the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which was first applied in 1894 to the American Railway Union. However, organized labor managed to obtain exemption from federal antitrust laws in subsequent legislation, notably the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.

Why the world’s youth is in a revolting state of mind

Martin Wolf:

In Tunisia and Egypt, the young are rebelling against old rulers. In Britain, they are in revolt against tuition fees. What do these young people have in common? They are suffering, albeit in different ways, from what David Willetts, the UK government’s minister of higher education, called the “pinch” in a book published last year.
In some countries, the challenge is an excess of young people; in others, it is that the young are too few. But where the young outnumber the old, they can hope to secure a better fate through the ballot box. Where the old outnumber the young, they can use the ballot box to their advantage, instead. In both cases, powerful destabilising forces are at work, bringing opportunity to some and disappointment to others.
Demography is destiny. Humanity is in the grip of three profound transformations: first, a far greater proportion of children reaches adulthood; second, women have far fewer children; and, third, adults live far longer. These changes are now working through the world, in sequence. The impact of the first has been to raise the proportion of the population that is young. The impact of the second is the reverse, decreasing the proportion of young people. The third, in turn, increases the proportion of the population that is very old. The impact of the entire process is first to expand the population and, later on, to shrink it once again.

ACE Statement Regarding MMSD (Madison School District) Actions

Don Severson, via email:

Attached is the Active Citizens for Education statement regarding the MMSD Board of Education and Administration actions related to the Governor’s Budget Repair Bill.
Here is the link to the video of the MMSD Board meeting on 02/14/11 go to the 9:50 minute mark for Marj Passman.
Letters from the Board and Superintendent to Governor Walker are accessible from the home page of the MMSD website.

Glaringly, there is no leadership from the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education nor administration for the overall good of the community, teachers nor students as evidenced by their actions the past few days. Individual Board members and the Board as a whole, as well as the administration, are complicit in the job action taken by teachers and their union. The Board clearly stepped out of line. Beginning Monday night at its Board meeting, Board member Marj Passman took advantage of signing up for a ‘public appearance’ statement as a private citizen. She was allowed to make her statement from her seat at the Board table instead of at the public podium–totally inappropriate. Her statement explicitly gave support to the teachers who she believed were under attack from the Walker proposed budget repair bill; that she was totally in support of the teachers; and encouraged teachers to take their protests to the Capital. Can you imagine any other employer encouraging their employees to protest against them to maintain or increase their own compensation in order to help assure bankruptcy for the organization or to fire them as employees? All Board members subsequently signed a letter to Governor Walker calling his proposals “radical and punitive’ to the bargaining process. With its actions, including cancellation of classes for Wednesday, the Board has abdicated and abrogated its fiduciary responsibility for public trust. The Board threw their responsibility away as elected officials and representatives of the citizens and taxpayers for the education of the children of the District and as employers of the teachers and staff. The Board cannot lead nor govern when it abdicates its statutory responsibilities and essentially acts as one with employees and their union. Under these circumstances, it is obvious they have made the choice not to exercise their responsibilities for identifying solutions to the obvious financial challenges they face. The Board will not recognize the opportunities, nor tools, in front of them to make equitable, fair and educationally and financially sound decisions of benefit to all stakeholders in the education of our young people.

Don Severson
President, ACE

Much more, here.

Stanford Corners the ‘Smart’ Market After Its Best Football Season in Years, School Chases Top Recruits With Elite Grades; Building Robots

Darren Everson & Jared Diamond:

As college football’s 2011 recruiting classes took shape last week, much of the talk was dominated by the usual question: Which team pulled in the richest talent haul? Some say it was Alabama, others Florida State.
What was not acknowledged, or even noted, was the impressive and unusual incoming class assembled by Stanford.
The school, which is coming off its best football season in 70 years, didn’t land the most physically talented class of high school football players. The consensus says their crop ranks somewhere around No. 20 in the nation among all the major college programs. What stands out about Stanford’s class is something entirely different: what superior students they are.
Wayne Lyons, a four-star defensive back from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has a 4.96 weighted grade-point average and likes to build robots in his spare time, is widely considered the best student among the nation’s elite recruits. When he visited Stanford, he said he was whisked to a seminar on building jet engines and to a facility where robots are built.

Consolidation Of Schools And Districts

Craig Howley, Jerry Johnson, and Jennifer Petrie:

Arguments for consolidation, which merges schools or districts and centralizes their management, rest primarily on two presumed benefits: (1) fiscal efficiency and (2) higher educational quality. The extent of consolidation varies across states due to their considerable differences in history, geography, population density, and politics. Because economic crises often provoke calls for consolidation as a means of increasing government efficiency, the contemporary interest in consolidation is not surprising.
However, the review of research evidence detailed in this brief suggests that a century of consolidation has already produced most of the efficiencies obtainable. Indeed, in the largest jurisdictions, efficiencies have likely been exceeded–that is, some consolidation has produced diseconomies of scale that reduce efficiency. In such cases, deconsolidation is more likely to yield benefits than consolidation. Moreover, contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications. For example, policymakers may believe “We’ll save money if we reduce the number of superintendents by consolidating districts;” however, larger districts need–and usually hire–more mid-level administrators. Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs.
For these reasons, decisions to deconsolidate or consolidate districts are best made on a case-by-case basis. While state-level consolidation proposals may serve a public relations purpose in times of crisis, they are unlikely to be a reliable way to obtain substantive fiscal or educational improvement.

In Budget Crises, an Opening for School Reform School systems can put students first by making sure any layoffs account for teacher quality, not seniority.

Michelle Rhee:

In the past year, 46 states grappled with budget deficits of more than $130 billion. This year could be worse as federal recovery dollars dry up. And yet, for education reform, 2011 could be the best of times.
California, to name one example, bridged its $25.4 billion budget gap by cutting billions from public education. It is now forced to cut another $18 billion to fill its current deficit. State executives and legislatures face severe choices and disappointments that could undo political careers and derail progress.
On the bright side, public support is building for a frontal attack on the educational status quo. And policy makers are rising to the challenge, not only because their budgets are tighter than ever, but also because they see an opportunity to reverse the current trend of discouraging academic results for our children.
Three weeks ago, I founded StudentsFirst, a national organization to defend and promote the interests of children in public education and to pursue an aggressive reform agenda to make American schools the best in the world. In the first 48 hours, 100,000 Americans signed up as members, contributing $1 million in small online donations.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: In the grip of a great convergence

Martin Wolf:

Convergent incomes and divergent growth – that is the economic story of our times. We are witnessing the reversal of the 19th and early 20th century era of divergent incomes. In that epoch, the peoples of western Europe and their most successful former colonies achieved a huge economic advantage over the rest of humanity. Now it is being reversed more quickly than it emerged. This is inevitable and desirable. But it also creates huge global challenges.
In an influential book, Kenneth Pomeranz of the University of California, Irvine, wrote of the “great divergence” between China and the west.* He located that divergence in the late 18th and 19th centuries. This is controversial: the late Angus Maddison, doyen of statistical researchers, argued that by 1820 UK output per head was already three times and US output per head twice Chinese levels. Yet of the subsequent far greater divergence there is no doubt whatsoever. By the middle of the 20th century, real incomes per head (measured at purchasing power parity) in China and India had fallen to 5 and 7 per cent of US levels, respectively. Moreover, little had changed by 1980.
What had once been the centres of global technology had fallen vastly behind. This divergence is now reversing. That is far and away the biggest single fact about our world.

A few awards to mark the good and bad this year in education

Alan Borsuk:

The last Sunday of the year and time for our first, perhaps annual, awards for noteworthy things that hapened in education around here in 2010.
Unsung Hero of the Year Award: Robert Kattman, director of the Office of Charter Schools at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The soft spoken former North Shore superintendent has been both supportive and demanding in building a roster of a dozen charter schools authorized by the UW Board of Regents. The list includes some of the best schools in Milwaukee, such as Milwaukee College Prep, Bruce Guadalupe, Seeds of Health Elementary, Woodlands School, Veritas High School. If the charter movement was like this nationwide, there would be far less controversy about these independent, publicly funded schools. Kattman is retiring at the end of the school year. Thanks for all your efforts.
The High Standards Start Here Award: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. Evers quickly signed up Wisconsin to be part of the “core standards” effort to bring coherence to the mish mash of what different states want students to learn. If the follow-through is good, it will raise Wisconsin’s expectations and, one hopes, student performance in years to come.
Most Important Data of the Year Award: The urban school district results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This was the first time MPS took part and its students could be compared directly to those in 17 other central city school systems. The results were generally pretty distressing. Do we want our local education motto to be: “Thank God for Detroit – at least someone is worse than us”? The data should remain chastening and motivating to everyone involved in local education.

American Education, Curbing Excellence

Steve Chapman
America’s primary and secondary schools have many problems, but an excess of excellence is not one of them. Not only do our weak students fare poorly in international comparisons, so do our strong ones. Mediocrity is the national norm. The very best students are the ones most likely to do things of great benefit to the rest of us — cure malaria, devise revolutionary inventions, start the next Apple or plumb the secrets of the universe. But we don’t always put much importance on helping them realize their full potential.
A case in point is Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., a racially and economically mixed suburb of Chicago that is home to Northwestern University. It recently decided to eliminate a high honors freshman English course aimed at challenging the top students. Henceforth, these youngsters will be grouped with everyone else in a regular “honors” class in humanities. Next year, the same may be done with biology. Your kid is an honor student at ETHS? Heck, everyone is an honors student at ETHS. It’s hardly the only school in America where grouping students according to their ability is in disrepute. There is a widespread impulse to treat all kids as equally able and willing to learn. But the results often fall dismally short of the hopes.
When the Chicago public schools scrapped remedial classes for ninth graders and put everyone in college-prep courses, “failure rates increased, grades declined slightly, test scores did not improve and students were no more likely to enter college,” according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Among average and above-average students, absenteeism rose. The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, “The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, ‘Well, smart kids can make it on their own.'”
But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math — lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.
School administrators in Evanston insist the change is aimed at making the curriculum more demanding, even as they make it less demanding for some students. Thanks to the abolition of this elite course, we are told, “high-achieving students” will profit from “experiencing multiple perspectives and diversity in their classes to gain cultural capital.”
In other words, racial balance will take priority over academic rigor. Blacks and Hispanics make up nearly half of all students but only 19 percent of those in advanced placement courses and 29 percent of those in honors courses. This is because minority students at Evanston, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000, generally score lower on achievement tests. Putting all students together is supposed to give everyone an equal opportunity.
But if you have a fever, you don’t bring it down by breaking the thermometer. The low numbers of black and Hispanic students are a symptom of a deeper problem, namely the failure of elementary and middle schools to prepare them for the most challenging course work. Evanston has had a big racial gap in academic performance for decades, and there is nothing to gain from pretending it doesn’t exist. Schools that group (or “track”) kids by ability generally get better overall results. Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, notes in a recent report, “Middle schools with more tracks have significantly more math pupils performing at the advanced and proficient levels and fewer students at the needs improvement and failing levels.”
Why would that be? Teaching is not easy, and teaching kids with a wide range of aptitude and interest is even harder. Grouping students by ability allows the tailoring of lessons to match the needs of each group. Putting them all together is bound to fail one group or another. Shortchanging gifted teens creates the risk of another unwanted effect: inducing their parents to leave. Families in Evanston can always move to neighboring suburbs with good schools, or they can opt for several fine private and parochial alternatives. Average students don’t gain from being in the same classes as exceptional ones if the exceptional ones are not there.
We as a society have not been very successful at turning average students into high achievers. Maybe we’ll have better luck doing the opposite.

Candidates dwindling for Madison School Board races

Matthew DeFour:

One suggestion Severson offered that hasn’t gained much traction in the past is to have board members represent geographic areas rather than the entire city, more like the Milwaukee School Board.
Ruth Robarts, who served on the board for 10 years, said a consequence of at-large seats like those in Madison is that races are more expensive — hers cost $20,000 — and it becomes impossible to campaign door-to-door.
That means candidates rely on the endorsements of Madison Teachers Inc., which Robarts said has “almost overwhelming influence” on local board elections, and other groups, which then tout candidates’ qualifications and get members out to vote.
“However, the big unknown in my mind is whether School Board campaigns would become much more parochial,” she added, referring to district-based elections. “If so, would that lead to good trade-offs needing to happen to get things done or would it lead to political gridlock at this very local level?”

The honeymoon’s over: After two years at helm, Madison school chief Nerad struggling

Susan Troller

For months, there was nothing but enthusiastic buzz surrounding the proposal to start a green charter school in Madison. The organizers of Badger Rock Middle School have broad support throughout the community and have meticulously done their homework. The school district administration was enthusiastic about the school’s focus on urban agriculture, and School Board members, who have the ultimate vote, were too.
Then, just days before the board was expected to give its final approval, the school district released new figures showing it would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to staff and operate the new school. This was a reversal from earlier projections that showed Badger Rock would bring no extra costs to the district.
In the current era of pinched budgets and dreary financial prospects, this revelation threw a monkey wrench into the process and caused the board to delay final consideration of the project until later this month.
“I had planned to come in here tonight to vote for this most innovative project,” board member Marj Passman said during the Nov. 29 meeting. “But at the last minute the Badger Rock people and the board were both hit broadside with new information that raises a lot of last-minute questions.”

Much more on Dan Nerad, here. Watch a recent video interview.

The sum of learning A university education that broadens the mind is worth much more than its market value

Anthony Cheung

As tertiary education becomes more popular and marketable, and investment in human capital a topic of attention, education is today often equated to vocational preparation. As a result, a number of leading academics have raised the alarm. Professor Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Macquarie University in Australia, lamented that universities nowadays focus too much on imparting knowledge and not wisdom. Living in the age of money, modern universities are trying their best to fit in, he said, so that university education is being reduced to vocational training. He urged universities to “wise up”.
In a recent book, Not For Profit, Martha Nussbaum, a professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, observed that modern tertiary education has lost its way. She said that if society wants to produce graduates who can empathise as a “citizen of the world”, then it should reverse the current skew towards economic productivity and restore liberal and critical values at universities.

Cedarburg School District will contact families who opted out of sex ed

Becky Vevea

Over the next few weeks, the Cedarburg School District will contact 111 families that did not return opt-in forms to have their children participate in sensitive issues of the human growth and development curriculum.
Last year, only a handful of parents opted their children out of the sex education curriculum.
In a move that caused controversy among community members, the Cedarburg School Board voted to reverse the process – mandating that parents had to specifically opt their children into the programming by signing a permission slip by Nov. 1. If no form was returned, it was assumed they opted out.
That change in policy drew the attention of the state Department of Public Instruction, which notified the district in a letter that it could face a legal challenge if the board didn’t return to an opt-out policy. Since then the board has discussed the policy at its last two regular meetings.

Make college cost more

Shirley V. Svorny

Recent decisions by the California State University Board of Trustees and the University of California regents to increase student fees have been attacked by critics who insist that higher education subsidies are critical for California’s economic growth and prosperity.
This is not true; the state’s prosperity rests on public policies that encourage economic activity, not on heavy subsidies to higher education.
Moreover, artificially low fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren’t suited to the academic rigors of a university. Ultimately, the presence of these lower-achieving students hurts those who are more academically inclined, as they end up in watered-down courses in which professors have to focus on bringing the low achievers along.

Wisconsin Education Superintendent Seeks 2-4% annual increases in redistributed state tax dollars, introduction of a poverty formula and a shift in Property Tax Credits

Many links as the school finance jockeying begins, prior to Governor Scott Walker’s January, 2011 inauguration. Wisconsin’s $3,000,000,000 deficit (and top 10 debt position) makes it unlikely that the K-12 world will see any funding growth.
Matthew DeFour

Evers plan relies on a 2 percent increase in school aid funding next year and a 4 percent increase the following year, a tough sell given the state’s $3 billion deficit and the takeover of state government by Republicans, who have pledged budget cuts.
One major change calls for the transfer of about $900 million in property tax credits to general aid, which Evers said would make the system more transparent while having a negligible impact on property taxes. That’s because the state imposes a limit on how much a district can raise its total revenue. An increase in state aid revenue would in most cases be offset by a decrease in the other primary revenue — property taxes.
Thus the switch would mean school districts wouldn’t have such large annual property tax increases compared to counties, cities and other municipalities, even though tax bills would remain virtually the same, said Todd Berry, executive director of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
“Distributing the money through the school aid formula, from a pure policy sense, is probably more equitable than distributing it in its current tax credit form,” Berry said. “The money will tend to help districts that tend to be poorer or middle-of-the-road.”

Susan Troller

Inequities in the current system tend to punish public schools in areas like Madison and Wisconsin’s northern lake districts because they have high property values combined with high poverty and special needs in their school populations. The current system doesn’t account for differences in kids’ needs when it doles out state aid.
Education policy makers as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle have talked school funding reform for over a dozen years but it’s been a tough sell because most plans have created a system of winners and losers, pitting legislator against legislator, district against district.
Evers’ plan, which calls for a 2 percent increase in school aid funding next year and a 4 percent increase the following year, as well as a transfer of about $900 million in property tax credits to general aid, addresses that issue of winners and losers. Over 90 percent of districts are receiving more funding under his proposal. But there aren’t any district losers in Evers’ plan, either, thanks to a provision that requests a tenth of a percent of the total state K-12 schools budget — $7 million — to apply to districts facing a revenue decline.


Wisconsin State and Local Debt Rose Faster Than Federal Debt During 1990-2009 Average Annual Increase in State Debt, 7.8%; Local Debt, 7.3%

Scott Bauer

Rewrite of Wisconsin school aid formula has cost

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

The following printout provides school district level information related to the impact of State Superintendent Evers’ Fair Funding proposal.
Specifically, the attachment to this document shows what each school district is receiving from the state for the following programs: (1) 2010-11 Certified General Aid; (2) 2009-10 School Levy Tax Credit; and (3) 2010-11 High Poverty Aid.
This information is compared to the potential impact of the State Superintendent’s Fair Funding proposal, which is proposed to be effective in 2012-13, as if it had applied to 2010-11.
Specifically, the Fair Funding Proposal contains the following provisions:

Amy Hetzner

But the plan also asks for $420 million more over the next two years – a 2% increase in funding from the state for the 2011-’12 school year and 4% more for the following year – making it a tough sell in the Legislature.
State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who will co-chair the powerful Joint Finance Committee, said she considered the proposal pretty much dead on arrival in the state Legislature, which will be under Republican control next year, without further changes.
“I think those goals are very admirable,” said Darling, who has been briefed on the plan. “But, you know, it’s a $6 billion budget just for education alone and we don’t have the new money. I think we have to do better with less. That’s just where we are.”
On Friday, Governor-elect Scott Walker said his office had only recently received the proposal from the DPI and he had not had time to delve into its details or to speak with Evers. He said he hoped to use his budget to introduce proposals that would help school districts to control their costs, such as freeing them from state mandates and allowing school boards to switch their employees to the state health plan.

Walker, GOP pledge to reform Wisconsin’s approach to school funding

Matthew DeFour

Wisconsin’s next governor has promised big changes for schools and taxpayers – from tying teacher pay raises to performance and giving each school a letter grade to expanding alternatives to public schools and helping school districts cut costs.
But the first challenge facing Republican Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature next year is closing a $3 billion deficit in the state’s general fund, 44 percent of which covers K-12 education.
“I don’t think anybody is going to, in the short run, be able to solve the budget problems without cutting state funding for K-12,” said Andrew Reschovsky, a UW-Madison economics professor. “The current situation is unsustainable in the long run. There really is a crisis in how we fund schools.”
State Superintendent Tony Evers this week is expected to kick-start the school spending debate by announcing the details of his plan to reform the state’s complex education funding formula. In June, he said his proposal would move away from distributing aid based on property values and take into account factors such as student poverty – a move that could help districts such as Madison with high property wealth but also a lot of poor students.
The state cut $284 million, or 2.6 percent, from school aid in the current budget, resulting in an 8 percent reduction for Madison. The state also reduced the amount districts could increase revenues from $275 per pupil to $200 per pupil, which helped keep a lid on property taxes but forced districts to make budget cuts.

Gov. Christie slams Parsippany school board for approving superintendent salary above planned cap

Matt Friedman

Gov. Chris Christie today slammed Parsippany’s school board for approving a salary for Superintendent LeRoy Seitz that is well above a cap set to take effect in a few months. But Christie was not sure if he could do anything to reverse the decision.
Christie, who was at a town hall meeting in Clifton, said the school board “cares more about whether a superintendent will take them out to lunch than protecting the taxpayers they were elected to serve,” and that they ignore voters at their “political peril.”
At a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday night, the board voted 6-2 to extend Seitz’s contract by five years, with an average annual salary of $225,064. The contract was set to expire on July 1.

Teaching Math to the Talented

Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann

In Vancouver last winter, the United States proved its competitive spirit by winning more medals–gold, silver, and bronze–at the Winter Olympic Games than any other country, although the German member of our research team insists on pointing out that Canada and Germany both won more gold medals than the United States. But if there is some dispute about which Olympic medals to count, there is no question about American math performance: the United States does not deserve even a paper medal.
Maintaining our productivity as a nation depends importantly on developing a highly qualified cadre of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and other professionals. To realize that objective requires a system of schooling that produces students with advanced math and science skills. To see how well schools in the United States do at producing high-achieving math students, we compared the percentage of U.S. students in the high-school graduating Class of 2009 with advanced skills in mathematics to percentages of similarly high achievers in other countries.

International Benchmarking: State Education Performance Standards

Gary W. Phillips, Ph.D., via a Richard Askey email

It is worth looking at the data to see how Wisconsin compares with some other states. Here is the mathematics comparison with Minnesota.
The “state” results are the percent of students ranked as proficient on the state test with the current cut scores being used. The international percent was obtained by using the state results on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) and this was mapped by comparing levels of problems to the level on TIMSS, (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study).
Grade 4 Mathematics Percent proficient
State International
Wisconsin 74 45
Minnesota 68 55
Massachusetts 49 63
Grade 8 Mathematics
Wisconsin 73 33
Minnesota 56 41
Massachusetts 46 52
No, the Massachusetts scores were not reversed here. Their cut score levels are set higher than the TIMSS levels.
It is time for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to redo the cut score levels to make them realistic. Parents in Wisconsin are mature enough to be told the truth about how well their children are doing.

Higher Education Bubble Update; New York Daily News Calls It a “Government-Sanctioned Racket”

The College Board released new data this week on “Trends in College Pricing” for 2010, and reported that four-year public universities raised tuition this year by 8%, almost twice the 4.5% average increase for tuition at America’s private universities. That differential follows a well-established pattern over the last decade of higher tuition increases at America’s public universities than at private schools (see the chart above). Public university tuition has increased faster than private tuition in each of the last four years, and in eight out of the last nine years, by an average of 3% per year. As the chart above shows, the trajectory of college tuition in the U.S. is on a path that makes the recent housing bubble seem like a minor historical footnote by comparison.
In assessing the College Board data, a NY Times article “As College Fees Climb, Aid Does Too” finds some “good news,” but only by reversing cause and effect:

Reminder from 1996: “Beyond the Classroom

Will Fitzhugh, via email:

“…Within a system that fails very few students, then, only those student who have high standards of their own–who have more stringent criteria for success and failure–will strive to do better than merely to pass their courses and graduate.”
“…Third, there are important differences in how students view the causes of their successes and failures, and these differences in students’ beliefs have important implications for how they actually perform in school. Successful students believe that their accomplishments are the result of hard work, and their failures the consequence of insufficient effort.”
“Beyond the Classroom,” Laurence Steinberg
Beyond the Classroom, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, pp. 183-187
For nearly fifteen years now, educators and policy-makers have been engaged in a nationwide effort to solve the problem of low student achievement in America. In one blue-ribbon bipartisan commission report after another, the American public has been told that if we change how we organize our schools, how and what we teach in the classrooms, and how we select, train, and compensate our teachers, we will see improvements in our children’s educational performance. In response to these reports, government agencies and private foundations have spent massive amounts of money on research designed to transform America’s schools. Although we hear occasional success stories about a school here or a program there that has turned students’ performance around, the competence of American students has not improved.
It is time we faced the music: fifteen years of school reform has not really accomplished anything. Today’s students know less, and can do less, than their counterparts could twenty-five years ago. Our high school graduates are among the least intellectually competent in the industrialized world. Contrary to widespread claims that the low achievement of American students is not real–that it is merely a “statistical artifact”–systematic scientific evidence indicates quite compellingly that the problem of poor student achievement is genuine, substantial, and pervasive across ethnic, socioeconomic, and age groups.
The achievement problem we face in this country is due not to a drop in the intelligence or basic intellectual capability of our children, but to a widespread decline in children’s interest in education and in their motivation to achieve in the classroom; it is a problem of attitude and effort, not ability. Two decades ago, a teacher in an average high school in this country could expect to have three or four “difficult” students in a class of thirty. Today, teachers in these same schools are expected to teach to classrooms in which nearly half of the students are uninterested. And only a very small proportion of the remaining half strives for excellence.
Given the findings of our study, it is not difficult to understand why so many students coast through school without devoting very much energy to schoolwork. As things stand, there is little reason for the majority of students to exert themselves any more than is necessary to avoid failing, being held back, or not graduating. Within an educational system in which all that counts is promotion to the next level–in which earning good grades is seen as equivalent to earning mediocre ones, and worse yet, in which actually learning something from school is seen as equivalent to not learning anything at all–students choose the path of least resistance. Getting by, rather than striving to succeed, has become the organizing principle behind student behavior in our schools. It is easy to point the finger at schools for creating this situation, but parents, employers, and the mass media have been significant participants in this process as well.
Our findings suggest that the sorry state of American student achievement is due more to the conditions of students’ lives outside of school than it is to what takes place within school walls. In my view, the failure of the school reform movement to reverse the decline in achievement is due to its emphasis on reforming schools and classrooms, and its general disregard of the contributing factors that, while outside the boundaries of the school, are probably more influential. In this final chapter, I want to go beyond the findings of our study and discuss a series of steps America needs to take if we are to successfully address [solve] the problem of declining student achievement.
Although we did not intend our study to be a study of ethnicity and achievement, the striking and consistent ethnic differences in performance and behavior that we observed demand careful consideration, if only because they demonstrate that some students are able to achieve at high levels within American schools, whatever our schools’ shortcomings may be. This does not mean, of course that our schools are free of problems, or that all students would be performing at high levels “if only” they behaved like their successful counterparts from other ethnic groups. Nevertheless, our findings do suggest that there may be something important to be learned by examining the behaviors and attitudes of students who are able to succeed within American schools as they currently exist, and that something other than deficiencies in our schools is contributing to America’s achievement problem.
By identifying some of the factors that appear to contribute to the remarkable success of Asian students (and Asian immigrants in particular), or that impede success among African-American and Latino students (and especially among Latinos whose families have been living in the United States for some time), we were able to ask whether these same factors contribute to student achievement in all groups. That is, we asked whether the factors that seem to give an advantage to Asian students as a group are the same factors that facilitate student achievement in general, regardless of a youngster’s ethnic background. The answer, for the most part, is yes.
Across all ethnic groups, working hard in school is a strong predictor of academic accomplishment. One clear reason for the relative levels of performance of the various ethnic groups is that Asian students devote relatively more effort to their studies, and Black and Latino youngsters relatively less. Compared with their peers, Asian youngsters spend twice as much time each week on homework and are significantly more engaged in the classroom. Students from other ethnic groups are more likely to cut class, less likely to pay attention, and less likely to value doing well in school. Black and Latino students are less likely to do the homework they are assigned than are White or Asian students.
Second, successful students are more likely than their peers to worry about the potential negative consequences of not getting a good education. Students need to believe that their performance in school genuinely matters in order to do well in the classroom, but students appear to be more strongly motivated by the desire to avoid failure than by actually striving for success. Because schools expect so little from students, however, it is easy for most of them to avoid failing without exerting much effort or expending much energy. Within a system that fails very few students, then, only those student who have high standards of their own–who have more stringent criteria for success and failure–will strive to do better than merely to pass their courses and graduate.
Asian students are far more likely to be worried about the possibility of not doing well in school and the implications of this for their future; this, then, is the second reason for their superior performance relative to other youngsters. Contrary to popular stereotype, African-American and Latino students are not especially pessimistic or cynical about the value of schooling, but, rather are unwisely optimistic about the repercussions of doing poorly in school. Either these students believe they can succeed without getting a good education or they have adopted this view as a way of compensating psychologically for their relatively weaker performance. In either case, though, their cavalier appraisal of the consequences of doing poorly in school is a serious liability.
Third, there are important differences in how students view the causes of their successes and failures, and these differences in students’ beliefs have important implications for how they actually perform in school. Successful students believe that their accomplishments are the result of hard work, and their failures the consequence of insufficient effort. Unsuccessful students, in contrast, attribute success and failure to factors outside their own control, such as luck, innate ability, or the biases of teachers. The greater prevalence of the healthful attributional style we see among Asian students in this country is consistent with what other researchers have found in cross-cultural comparisons of individuals’ beliefs about the origins of success. Americans, in general, place too much emphasis on the importance of native ability, and too little emphasis on the necessity of hard work. This set of views is hurting our children’s achievement in school.
Regardless of ethnic background, success in school is highly correlated with being strongly engaged in school emotionally. The factors that contribute to the relative success of Asian students–hard work, high personal standards, anxiety about doing poorly, and the belief that success and failure are closely linked to the amount of effort one exerts–are keys to academic success in all groups of students. The superior performance of Asian students in American schools, then, is not mysterious, but explainable on the basis of their attitudes, values, and behavior.

Hybrid Schooling

Catherine Field

Religion usually makes news in France when the state invokes its stern policy of “laïcité.”
This is the country, as we read again and again, with laws that ban crucifixes and Islamic headscarves in state schools and outlaw the full-face Muslim veil in public streets.
Yet here I am sitting in the front row at a Catholic lycée surrounded by Muslims, Christians and non-believers, as the bishop of Versailles blesses the pupils and the building and reads to the new pupils from the gospel of Matthew: “You are the light of the world. …”

More on honors classes and racism

Posted on 10/18 to the East High Community list serv, in response to a description of the MMSD high school reform proposal. Posted here with the author’s permission.
Dear East Community:
I contribute to this discussion group only once in a blue moon, but this issue is near and dear to my heart and I am compelled to comment. I cannot think of a more important issue than that of race and racism in our educational institutions.
I speak as a lifelong political progressive who has been active in community issues relating to racism and economic and social disparities for thirty years, from Cleveland to Chicago’s south side to Madison. More important, I speak as an adult basic instructor in mathematics at MATC who teaches many of the students that have been failed by their experience in the Madison schools, most of them students of color or students mired in the low margins of the socioeconomic system.
With that said, it frustrates and saddens me see how many well-meaning people have this issue exactly backward. It is not racist school policy to offer multiple tracks, specifically honors or AP TAG classes. Rather, racist school policy – of the most insidious nature imaginable – is failing to offer those classes because students of color aren’t in them. That argument implicitly says that students of color cannot achieve, and that message speaks volumes about the difference between looking fair in some lowest-common-denominator way versus fighting for the hard and true and noble path in student achievement.
Simply put, we should have TAG classes and they should be filled with students of every class, race and color. That they have historically not been filled with students of every class, race and color is the real issue. It tells us that our methods for evaluating students are abysmal, even abusive (how many of you have enjoyed watching your 4th grader take class time to learn to use a squeeze ball to reduce stress on standardized tests?). It tells us that we are not successfully seeking out students of tremendous potential because we don’t understand them or don’t know how to relate to them or reach them. It also says that we fail to properly appreciate what a culture of demanding expectations of achievement can do for every student in a classroom, especially when we demand of ourselves to understand and embrace each of our students as strikingly unique individuals and not achievers based upon highly overrated and dubious “educational standards,” standardized test scores or other unhelpful common denominators.
The progress of my classes at MATC this semester is typical and no surprise to me. I have two algebra classes. One, downtown, is mostly white and/or middle class. The other, in South Madison, is almost entirely students of color, most with difficult personal circumstances, most of whom have always failed at math. One class is achieving well enough. The other class is over-achieving, pushed hard, pushing me back, engaged, holding an average grade of AB. Any guesses which is which?
As educators and supporters of our schools we can do so much better than we do. But we cannot do better by pretending that differentiation in a classroom can accomplish the same thing as a motivated rainbow of a class with a class-wide ethic to achieve deep understanding and a drive to overcome commonplace expectations.
I say that we need both TAG classes and the recruiting methods and policies to make sure that they reflect every kind of brilliance in our community.
Pete Nelson

As they say, “Friend speaks my mind.”

Oppressive debt forces governments – and West Bend schools – to make tough choices

John Schmid:

After living beyond its means for decades and shifting its debt onto future generations, an entire society is seeing the bills come due earlier than expected. And Kelly Egan’s students are about to pay the price.
Egan teaches high achievers in math and reading, a job that barely survived budget cuts last year – but the reprieve was short-lived. At the end of this school year, the position is almost certain to disappear along with dozens more in West Bend, adding to the hundreds of thousands of public employees nationwide whose employment has been cut short by the meanest economic downturn since the 1930s.
“Parents ask, ‘What should we do with our children as the West Bend School District continues to cut and cut and cut programs,’ ” said Egan, a 20-year veteran who is likely to be reassigned to teach the regular curriculum.
For the first time since the Depression, virtually every strata of American government is caught in the same viselike squeeze: Cities, counties and states find themselves deep in debt and lacking rainy day reserves to tide them over in hard times. Even with federal stimulus funds, local governments are laying off police officers and teachers, closing firehouses and selling public assets. During the past two years, state and local governments nationwide have cut 242,000 jobs, and public schools have shed an additional 200,700, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Teach For America – You Might Want to Pay Attention

Melissa Westbrook

m still doing research on Teach for America. I’m going to try to do a two-part thread on it and somewhat in reverse because of the urgency I feel about the situation. I’ll do the facts and stats later but I want to try to get to the meat of the issue now. But first…
What is the problem that TFA is trying to solve?
You go to their website and they talk about the lack “educational equity” for low-income students. This is true and most would not dispute it. Okay, but why create a teaching corps?
What is TFA’s “approach?”
Teach For America provides a critical source of well-trained teachers who are helping break the cycle of educational inequity. These teachers, called corps members, commit to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the country, going above and beyond traditional expectations to help their students to achieve at high levels.
Under History, they state:

Serious ideas from State of Education speech. Seriously.

Susan Troller:

For instance, he’s the only state elected official to actually and seriously float a proposal to repair the broken state funding system for schools. He promises the proposal for his “Funding for Our Future” will be ready to introduce to lawmakers this fall and will include details on its impact on the state’s 424 school districts.
Evers also is interested in the potential of charter schools. Let’s be open and supportive about education alternatives, he says, but mindful of what’s already working well in public schools.
And he says qualified 11th and 12th graders should be allowed to move directly on to post-secondary education or training if they wish. Dual enrollment opportunites for high school age students attending college and technical schools will require a shift in thinking that shares turf and breaks down barriers, making seamless education — pre-K through post-secondary — a reality instead of some distant dream, according to Evers.
As to Evers’ comments on teacher testing, he joins a national conversation that has been sparked, in part, by the Obama administration as well as research that shows the single universal element in improved student performance is teacher quality. We recently featured a story about concerns over teacher evaluation based on student performance and test scores, and the issue has been a potent topic elsewhere, as well.

The proof, as always, is in the pudding, or substance.
Melissa Westbrook wrote a very useful and timely article on education reform:

I think many ed reformers rightly say, “Kids can’t wait.” I agree.
There is nothing more depressing than realizing that any change that might be good will likely come AFTER your child ages out of elementary, middle or high school. Not to say that we don’t do things for the greater good or the future greater good but as a parent, you want for your child now. Of course, we are told that change needs to happen now but the reality is what it might or might not produce in results is years off. (Which matters not to Bill Gates or President Obama because their children are in private schools.)
All this leads to wonder about our teachers and what this change will mean. A reader, Lendlees, passed on a link to a story that appeared in the LA Times about their teacher ratings. (You may recall that the LA Times got the classroom test scores for every single teacher in Los Angeles and published them in ranked order.)

Susan Troller notes that Wisconsin’s oft criticized WKCE (on which Madison’s value added assessment program is based) will be replaced – by 2014:

Evers also promised that the much maligned Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, used to test student proficiency in 3rd through 6th, 8th and 10th grades, is on its way out. By 2014, there will be a much better assessment of student proficiency to take its place, Evers says, and he should know. He’s become a leading figure in the push for national core education standards, and for effective means for measuring student progress.

Some say bypassing a higher education is smarter than paying for a degree

Sarah Kaufman

Across the region and around the country, parents are kissing their college-bound kids — and potentially up to $200,000 in tuition, room and board — goodbye.
Especially in the supremely well-educated Washington area, this is expected. It’s a rite of passage, part of an orderly progression toward success.
Or is it . . . herd mentality?
Hear this, high achievers: If you crunch the numbers, some experts say, college is a bad investment.
“You’ve been fooled into thinking there’s no other way for my kid to get a job . . . or learn critical thinking or make social connections,” hedge fund manager James Altucher says.
Altucher, president of Formula Capital, says he sees people making bad investment decisions all the time — and one of them is paying for college.

Private vs Public Education

Linda Thomas:

The lawn is meticulously manicured, as if the groundskeeper’s tools include a cuticle scissors. Classic brick buildings, a bell tolling the hour and concrete lion statues almost convince me that I’m at an East Coast college. But this is Lakeside School in Northeast Seattle.
This is where super-achievers went to school – Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Craig McCaw to name a few. Many of Seattle’s affluent families send their kids here for a challenging private education. With an acceptance rate of 24 percent, Lakeside is the most elite private high school in the Northwest. This photo of Bliss Hall was taken before the current renovation project started.
So what was I doing there? Just wandering, and wondering if my children would have a better start in life if they went to private schools.
“As someone who has experienced both public schooling and private schooling, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind: sending your child to a private school is one of the best decisions you can make for him or her,” says Peter Rasmussen, a recent Lakeside alumnus. “In retrospect, if my parents made me pay my tuition all by myself, I would have. That’s how valuable a Lakeside education is.”

Multiculturalism and Its Discontents

Susan Jacoby:

I am an atheist with an affinity for non-fundamentalist religious believers whose faith has made room for secular knowledge. I am also a political liberal. I am not, however, a multiculturalist who believes that all cultures and religions are equally worthy of respect. And I find myself in a lonely place in relation to many liberals, political and religious, because I cannot accept a multiculturalism that tends to excuse, under the rubric of “tolerance,” religious and cultural practices that violate universal human rights.
The latest example of the Left’s blind spot on this issue is the antagonism of so many liberal reviewers toward Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s recent memoir, Nomad. The Somali-born Hirsi Ali immigrated to the United States in 2006 after her close friend, the Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, was murdered by a radical Islamist. Hirsi Ali still needs bodyguards because of frequent death threats.

Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century

John McWhorter

This book is depressing because it is so persuasive. There is a school of thought in America which argues that the government must be the main force that provides help to the black community. This shibboleth is predicated upon another one: that such government efforts will make a serious difference in disparities between blacks and whites. Amy Wax not only argues that such efforts have failed, she also suggests that such efforts cannot bring equality, and therefore must be abandoned. Wax identifies the illusion that mars American thinking on this subject as the myth of reverse causation–that if racism was the cause of a problem, then eliminating racism will solve it. If only this were true. But it isn’t true: racism can set in motion cultural patterns that take on a life of their own.
Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian’s medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience–and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, “That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work.”

Appeals court rules in favor of Marshall School District in case of special-needs student

Doug Erickson:

Educators in the Marshall School District properly determined that a student with a genetic disease was no longer eligible for special education and related services, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, released Monday, reversed a lower court’s ruling that relied heavily on a doctor’s opinion and discounted the testimony of the student’s special education gym teacher.
Barbara Sramek, Marshall superintendent, said the ruling’s implications extend far beyond one school district.
“This was not about money, it was about principle,” she said. “Ultimately, it reinforces the value of educators and professional development.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Pieces for a better Wisconsin school Finance plan

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

State leaders keep throwing Wisconsin’s broken school financing system into the too-hard-to-fix pile.
There’s so much money involved, and so many powerful interests, that just about any attempt to force change faces fierce criticism and a slim chance of success.
Yet that’s what leadership is about: Pulling people together, usually in the middle of the political spectrum, to find workable solutions.
State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers just stepped up to try to provide some of that leadership on the vexing issue of how to pay for schools. Evers wants to change, in ways big and small, how Wisconsin distributes billions of dollars in state aid to schools each year.
Some of his ideas merit consideration. Others are less convincing. And some are missing.


K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: A Look at Wisconsin Gubernartorial Candidate Positions

National standards would harm math curriculum

Ze’ev Wurman & Bill Evers:

The State Board of Education is voting Monday on adopting national K-12 curriculum standards in a package that includes an obese, unteachable eighth-grade math course.
Back in May 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell pledged to adopt the then-not-yet-created national curriculum standards only if they “meet or exceed our own.”
The pledge these public officials took was wise and honorable. California has K-12 academic-content standards that are widely praised as the best in the nation. For example, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found on July 21 that California’s standards in both English and mathematics are the absolute best in the nation and better than the national standards. Clearly, Fordham’s expert reviewers did not agree with the calls we sometimes hear that we must ditch our standards because they are inadequate.

Abandoning Age-Tracking

Tamara Fisher:

In the school district where I teach, we do a moderate amount of within-grade-level ability-grouping with our students, particularly in reading and math. Occasionally I hear a teacher bemoan this practice as “tracking,” despite the fact that the groups are rather flexible and, particularly in reading, the students are re-grouped often (every few weeks) according to their learning needs. It is not “tracking” in the way groupings were created decades ago in our district in which students were irreversibly placed into, or rather locked into, a track. These are flexible groupings far more than they are tracks.
Ironically, the grade-level, whole-class groupings apparently preferred by these teachers who bemoan ability-grouping are the most restrictive form of tracking, that by age. For a century (-ish), schools have “tracked” students based on when they were born, not based on what they are ready and able to learn. “Born between September 1, 2003, and August 31, 2004? You belong to the Class of 2022.” That is how it works in nearly every school in our country. It’s tracking by age, but no one calls it that.
Of course, many teachers, especially those of us in the realm of gifted education, recognize that age-tracking (particularly in the absence of any differentiation) does little to help schools meet the learning needs of gifted and advanced learners who are academically years ahead of their age-peers.

Wisconsin’s Education Superintendent on the National “Common Core” Academic Standards

Alan Borsuk:

But signing Wisconsin on to the nationwide standards campaign may trump all of those. Wisconsin’s current standards for what children should learn have been criticized in several national analyses as weak, compared with what other states have. The common core is regarded as more specific and more focused on what students really should master.
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the generally conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, is a big backer of the new standards. “There is no doubt whatsoever in Wisconsin’s case that the state would be better off with the common core standards than what it has today,” he said in a phone interview.
But standards are one thing. Making them mean something is another. Evers said that will be a major focus for him ahead.
“How are we going to make this happen in the classrooms of Wisconsin?” he asked.
The answer hinges on making the coming state testing system a meaningful way of measuring whether students have learned what they are supposed to learn. And that means teaching them the skills and abilities in the standards.
Does that mean Wisconsin will, despite its history, end up with statewide curricula in reading and math? Probably not, if you mean something the state orders local schools to do. But probably yes in terms of making recommendations that many schools are likely to accept.
“We will have a model curriculum, no question,” Evers said. He said more school districts are looking to DPI already for answers because, with the financial crunches they are in, they don’t have the capacity to research good curriculum choices.

Next Georgia governor faces shaping up schools

Laura Diamond:

The governor will be expected to reverse the financial tsunami that forced local school districts to lay off teachers, shorten the school year and eliminate academic programs. He or she will play a major role in updating the popular HOPE scholarship, as falling revenues jeopardize its future. The governor will also help decide hot-button issues, such as whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to attend the state’s public colleges.
While education leaders — such as the state superintendent, State Board of Education and State Board of Regents — set policies and make decisions that affect the state’s public schools and colleges, the governor wields enormous power and influence over the quality of education in Georgia.
The gubernatorial candidates agreed education was either the No. 1 issue or just behind jobs and economic development.

Why I’m skeptical about school finance ‘reforms’

Jo Egelhoff:

Something’s not right about this school funding reform stuff. State Superintendent Tony Evers last month introduced “Fair Funding for Our Future,” which is supposed to “make it fairer for districts [and] provide them with more financial stability”

… so that every Wisconsin child can graduate ready to succeed in further education and the workplace….Fair, sustainable, and transparent funding also requires education leaders at all levels to commit to investing taxpayer dollars in programs that show results.

Evers – and many others – seem to be honing in on the bucks when it’s much more critically important to hone in on that “showing results” part.
Heritage does great work on countering the “Education Spending Fallacy,” i.e., that more money means better performance. The latest piece countered Paul Krugman’s plea to throw more money at the system.

A Proposal To Rewrite Wisconsin’s $5,200,000,00 in Redistributed State Tax Dollars for K-12 Districts

Scott Bauer:

The school levy credit shows up as a reduction on property tax bills mailed in December, and killing it would be difficult politically.
But according to Dale Knapp of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the proposal would simply move money around and would have little effect on the problems schools face.
“Some districts will pay less, some will pay slightly more, but the schools will be in the same boat they were before,” he said.
The state uses the school levy tax credit to help reduce property taxes that provide local money for schools. It was created in 1996 and it has grown by more than 400 percent since.
Evers stressed that putting the tax credit money into the aid formula, then redistributing it to schools under a reworked formula, would not result in a net increase statewide in property taxes. It would, however, mean higher or lower taxes for individuals, depending on their school district.

Houston Superintendent Grier dishes on magnet schools, names new chief

Ericka Mellon:

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier has eliminated the position of manager of magnet programs. That means Dottie Bonner, who held the job since March 2002, is out. She submitted her letter of resignation effective Aug. 31, according to the district.
Grier instead has created a higher-level position, an assistant superintendent over school choice. Lupita Hinojosa, the former executive principal over the Wheatley High School feeder pattern, has been named to the post.
We know that changing anything related to magnets puts parents on edge, especially after former HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra’s failed attempt to reduce busing to the specialty schools. A quick Internet search shows that magnet transportation also was a hot topic in Grier’s former district, San Diego Unified. The school board there voted in spring 2009 to eliminate busing to magnets to save money but reversed the decision after parent outcry, according to Voice of San Diego.
I talked to Grier this morning about what happened in San Diego, and he said the decision to end busing to magnet schools was the school board’s, not his. “(Deputy Superintendent) Chuck Morris and I counseled and advised and recommended that they not do this — that it would destroy the magnet program — but they did anyway.”

Several Madison schools fail to meet No Child Left Behind standards

Gena Kittner:

Six of the seven Madison schools that made the federal list of schools in need of improvement last year are on it again, including two Madison elementary schools that faced sanctions for failing to meet No Child Left Behind standards.
In addition, three out of four Madison high schools failed to make adequate yearly progress, according to state Department of Public Instruction data released Tuesday. DeForest, Middleton and Sun Prairie high schools also made the list.
Statewide, 145 schools and four districts missed one or more adequate yearly progress targets. Last year 148 schools and four districts made the list, according to DPI. This year 89 Wisconsin schools were identified for improvement, up from 79 last year.
“These reports, based off a snapshot-in-time assessment, present one view of a school’s progress and areas that need improvement,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers in a statement.

Related: the controversial WKCE annual exam.

Understanding how colleges hand out aid can improve your chances

Jane Bennett Clark:

Wander Ursinus College and you’d think you had stepped into an Ivy League idyll. Stone-clad buildings overlook a sweeping lawn, which slopes to a picture-perfect, small-town Main Street. Winding paths skirt carefully tended gardens. Outdoor statues gaze raptly at midair as students stroll by, chattering on cellphones.
But Ursinus College, in Collegeville, Pa., lacks the wealth and status that allow the real Ivies to choose from among the best students in the country and to cover their full financial need with no-loan aid packages. Like the vast majority of colleges, Ursinus must not only troll for top students but also calibrate exactly how much money it will take to bring them to campus and keep them there.
In college-speak, it’s called enrollment management — a way of slicing and dicing admissions policies and financial aid to attract a strong and diverse student body while bringing in enough revenue to keep the doors open. Whereas elite colleges take merit as a given and extend financial aid only to those who need it, Ursinus offers sizable scholarships to outstanding applicants from every economic strata, including the wealthiest.
Surprised? Consider your own college search. As a parent, you look for the best academic program for your student at an affordable price — the same basic process that colleges use to attract the best students, but in reverse. The better you understand how colleges conduct their deliberations, the better you can go about yours.

Wisconsin schools commit to Common Core State Standards

Erin Richards:

To help make sure schoolchildren around the country are learning the same grade-by-grade information necessary for success in college and life after high school, Wisconsin’s schools chief Wednesday formally committed the state to adopting a set of national education standards.
The long-awaited Common Core State Standards for English and math, released Wednesday, define the knowledge and skills children should be learning from kindergarten through graduation, a move intended to put the United States on par with other developed countries and to make it easier to compare test scores from state to state.
“These standards are aligned with college and career expectations, will ensure academic consistency throughout the state and across other states that adopt them, and have been benchmarked against international standards for high-performing countries,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said in a news release Wednesday.
Wisconsin already had pledged to support the common standards. A draft report released in March solicited public comment on the standards, which were subsequently tweaked before the final document was released Wednesday.

Wisconsin DPI Receives $13.8M in Federal Tax Funds for “an interoperable data system that supports the exchange of data and ad hoc research requests”

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

State Superintendent Tony Evers issued a statement today on the $13.8 million, four-year longitudinal data system (LDS) grant Wisconsin won to support accountability. Wisconsin was among 20 states sharing $250 million in competitive funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
“Receiving this U.S. Department of Education grant is very good news for Wisconsin and will allow us to expand our data system beyond its current PK-16 capacity. Through this grant, the Department of Public Instruction will work with the University of Wisconsin System, Wisconsin Technical College System, and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities to develop an interoperable data system that supports the exchange of data and ad hoc research requests.
“Teacher quality, training, and professional development are key factors in improving student achievement. However, Wisconsin’s aging teacher licensing and certification system is insufficient for today’s accountability demands. This grant will allow us to improve our teacher licensing system and incorporate licensing data into the LDS, which will drive improvement in classroom instruction and teacher education.

2. Post-graduation Information Available to Wisconsin Schools

Public schools in Wisconsin can now obtain, at no cost, post-graduation student data for local analysis.
The Department of Public Instruction recently signed a contract with the National Student Clearinghouse, a non-profit organization which works with more than 3,300 postsecondary institutions nationwide to maintain a repository of information on enrollment, degrees, diplomas, certificates, and other educational achievements.
The NSC data can answer questions such as
Where in the country, and when, do our high school graduates enroll in college?
How long do their education efforts persist?
Do they graduate from college?
What degrees do they earn?
The DPI will integrate information about graduates from Wisconsin high schools into the Wisconsin Longitudinal Data System (LDS). In addition, any public high school or district in Wisconsin can use the NSC StudentTracker service to request similar data for local analysis.

How Student Loans Helped Destroy America

ZenCollege Life:

On March 30 2010, President Obama signed “historic student loan legislation” into law. The Education Reconciliation Act is intended to generate $61 billion in savings, by streamlining the student loan program and reinvesting the money to make college more affordable. Sadly, it is too little, too late.
Once a Great Nation
The student loan burden on today´s working population has already destroyed the economy, practically removed any last semblance of freedom in our workplace and just served to fatten the wallets of the bankers, lawyers and corporate suits that now run the country. The virtues that once made America a great nation have been abused by those entrusted with its care, and even $61 billion will not reverse the situation that we now find ourselves in.
The History
In 1944, the GI Bill (“Servicemen´s Readjustment Act”) was enacted to help war veterans further their educations and, in turn, increase the number of employable persons in order to strengthen the U.S. economy. Throughout the next twenty years, improvements were made to this system through the National Defence Student Loan Program (1958 – aka Perkins Loan Program) and the Higher Education Act of 1965 – creating the Guaranteed Student Loan Program.
Sallie Mae
Although it would be easy to say that the rot set in with the founding of Sallie Mae in 1972, you have to acknowledge that they only exasperated later problems through their incompetence and greed. In 1972, people still worked their way through college, and Sallie Mae was established to simply facilitate loans to those who needed them, rather than lend any funds themselves.
No. The cause of all today´s problems are those pillars of education – the colleges.

Huge College Degree Gap for Class of 2010

Mark Perry:

WILX-TV LANSING, MI — For last year’s graduating Class of 2009, women dominated at every level of higher education. Here’s the national breakdown: for every 100 men, 142 women graduated with a bachelor’s, 159 women completed a master’s and 107 women got a doctoral degree. University of Michigan Economics Professor Dr. Mark Perry says similar numbers are in tow this year (see chart above for the Class of 2010).
“What’s happening is historic and unprecedented and we’re seeing this huge structural change in higher education,” says Perry. “When it happens year by year, we just don’t pay as close attention.” But Perry says attention now must be paid. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 1971, the percentage of men outnumbered women in degrees conferred 61 to 39, but by 2017, expect a complete reversal.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Future Of Public Debt, Bank for International Settlements Debt Projections

John Mauldin:

“Seeing that the status quo is untenable, countries are embarking on fiscal consolidation plans. In the United States, the aim is to bring the total federal budget deficit down from 11% to 4% of GDP by 2015. In the United Kingdom, the consolidation plan envisages reducing budget deficits by 1.3 percentage points of GDP each year from 2010 to 2013 (see eg OECD (2009a)).
“To examine the long-run implications of a gradual fiscal adjustment similar to the ones being proposed, we project the debt ratio assuming that the primary balance improves by 1 percentage point of GDP in each year for five years starting in 2012. The results are presented as the green line in Graph 4. Although such an adjustment path would slow the rate of debt accumulation compared with our baseline scenario, it would leave several major industrial economies with substantial debt ratios in the next decade.
“This suggests that consolidations along the lines currently being discussed will not be sufficient to ensure that debt levels remain within reasonable bounds over the next several decades.
“An alternative to traditional spending cuts and revenue increases is to change the promises that are as yet unmet. Here, that means embarking on the politically treacherous task of cutting future age-related liabilities. With this possibility in mind, we construct a third scenario that combines gradual fiscal improvement with a freezing of age-related spending-to-GDP at the projected level for 2011. The blue line in Graph 4 shows the consequences of this draconian policy. Given its severity, the result is no surprise: what was a rising debt/GDP ratio reverses course and starts heading down in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. In several others, the policy yields a significant slowdown in debt accumulation. Interestingly, in France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States, even this policy is not sufficient to bring rising debt under contro
[And yet, many countries, including the US, will have to contemplate something along these lines. We simply cannot fund entitlement growth at expected levels. Note that in the US, even by “draconian” estimates, debt-to-GDP still grows to 200% in 30 years. That shows you just how out of whack our entitlement programs are.
Sidebar: This also means that if we – the US – decide as a matter of national policy that we do indeed want these entitlements, it will most likely mean a substantial VAT tax, as we will need vast sums to cover the costs, but with that will come slower growth.]

TJ Mertz reflects on the Madison School District’s 2010-2011 budget and discusses increased spending via property tax increases:

I was at a meeting of Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools people yesterday. Some of the people there were amazed at the hundreds of Madisonians who came out to tell the Board of Education that they preferred tax increases to further cuts. Some of the people were also perplexed that with this kind of support the Board of Education is cutting and considering cutting at the levels they are. I’m perplexed too. I’m also disappointed.

We’ll likely not see significant increases in redistributed state and federal tax dollars for K-12. This means that additional spending growth will depend on local property tax increases, a challenging topic given current taxes.
Walter Russell Mead on Greece’s financial restructuring:

What worries investors now is whether the Greeks will stand for it. Will Greek society resist the imposition of savage cuts in salaries and public services, and will the government’s efforts to reform the public administration and improve tax collection (while raising taxes) actually work?
The answer at this point is that nobody knows. On the plus side, the current Greek government is led by the left-wing PASOK party. The trade unions and civil service unions not only support PASOK; in a very real way they are the party. Although the party’s leader George Papandreou is something of a Tony Blair style ‘third way’ politician who is more comfortable at Davos than in a union hall, the party itself is one of Europe’s more old fashioned left wing political groups, where chain-smoking dependency theorists debate the shifting fortunes of the international class war. The protesters are protesting decisions made by their own political leadership; this may help keep a lid on things. If a conservative government had proposed these cuts, Greece would be much nearer to some kind of explosion.
On the minus side, the cuts are genuinely harsh, with pay cuts for civil servants of about 15% and the total package of government spending cuts set at 10 percent of GDP. (In the United States, that would amount to federal and state budget cuts totaling more than $1.4 trillion, almost one quarter of the total spending of all state and local governments plus the federal government combined.) The impact on Greek lifestyles will be even more severe; spending cuts that severe will almost certainly deepen Greece’s recession. Many Greeks stand to lose their jobs and, as credit conditions tighten, may face losing their homes and businesses as well.

Much more on the Madison School District’s 2010-2011 budget here.

Wisconsin Schools Chief May Get More Power

Alan Borsuk:

Key legislators and major players in Wisconsin’s education scene are close to agreement on a package of ideas aimed at invigorating efforts to improve low performing schools, particularly in Milwaukee.
The focus of the proposal is on giving Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, an array of new tools for taking on the problems of the schools in the state that get the weakest results.
According to a draft of the proposal, when it comes to low-performing schools, Evers would have powers to order school boards to change how principals are hired and fired; how teachers are assigned; how teachers and principals are evaluated, including the use of student performance data; and how curriculum and training of teachers is handled.
“There’s a large consensus of people who are around this,” State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said. “That’s exciting.”
Evers said, “We feel confident we have a good, meaningful piece of legislation.” He said it had been “an amazing few weeks” as prospects for a major education reform package this year went from bleak to energized. He said conversations, including a session Wednesday at the Capitol with many of the major players, had involved hard conversations in which people had given ground on stands they had taken previously.

University of Wisconsin System plan would boost graduates 30% by 2025

Sharif Durhams:

University of Wisconsin System leaders are crafting a plan to boost the number of degrees the schools award each year by 30% over the next 15 years, a move that would make the universities even more of an engine that makes the state’s economy attractive for businesses.
The goal is to boost the percentage of Wisconsin residents who have college degrees or some professional certificate from a university or college. To meet it, the schools would have to confer 33,700 degrees in 2025, up from today’s rate of about 26,000 a year. If the universities meet the goal, they will award 80,000 more degrees over the next 15 years than they would otherwise.
UWM would be a major player in the plan, UW System President Kevin Reilly said. Officials could announce as early as Monday how many additional degrees the urban campus would produce under the plan.
Meeting the goal would come at an up-front cost for the state, Reilly said. The universities would have to make the case to state lawmakers to reverse a long-term trend in which a shrinking share of the budget for the campuses comes from the state. Reilly also said the state would have to help increase faculty salaries, which lag behind salaries at peer universities in other states.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.

Illinois considers a four-day school week to save money

Melanie Eversley

Illinois state senators are considering a measure already in place in other states that would allow school districts to convert to a four-day week, the Chicago Tribune writes.
State House members already have approved the plan, designed to help rural school districts save money, the paper said. California, Colorado and Arizona have adopted similar plans, the paper reported.
“We would save $100,000 or more a school year … (if we) run the buses one less day a week,” Mark Janesky, superintendent of the Jamaica School District, told the Tribune. “I turn the heat off an extra day a week. Your cafeteria is open one day less a week.”

Wisconsin’s fourth-grade readers lose ground on NAEP Test

Amy Hetzner:

The latest scorecard gauging how well Wisconsin’s students read compared with their classmates in other states showed little change from previous years, but the rest of the nation’s fourth-graders have been catching up and Wisconsin’s black students now rank behind those in every other state.
“Holding steady is not good enough,” state schools Superintendent Tony Evers said about the results. “Despite increasing poverty that has a negative impact on student learning, we must do more to improve the reading achievement of all students in Wisconsin.”
Fourth-graders in Wisconsin posted an average score of 220 on the 500-point reading test administered in 2009 as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card. That represented a three-point drop from two years before and translated to a 33% proficiency rate.
It also matched the national average score for fourth-graders. In 1994, Wisconsin students bested the nation’s fourth-grade average by 12 points.

First choice for charters, second (or third) chance for players

Josh Barr:

Check out at the boys’ basketball rosters for Friendship Collegiate and the Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers and the number of transfers on each team is striking. Nearly all of the players on both rosters started their high school careers elsewhere before transferring to one of the two D.C. public charter schools.
“We’re cleaning up, we’re the last stop,” KIMA Coach Levet Brown said. “Do you think I could get a Eugene McCrory if he was doing well somewhere else?”
Indeed, McCrory — who has committed to play for Seton Hall and was selected to play in the Capital Classic — attended C.H. Flowers and Parkdale in Prince George’s County and Paul VI Catholic in Fairfax during his first three years of high school.

Tiny school’s fate roils rural California district

Louis Sahagun:

Class divisions fuel furor over a plan to close college-prep academy in the eastern Sierra Nevada. ‘The situation has unleashed pandemonium,’ says the district’s superintendent.
When Eastern Sierra Unified School District Supt. Don Clark stared down a projected budget deficit, he did what school administrators across the nation have had to do: consider laying off teachers and closing campuses.
But that decision, in a rural district sprawled along U.S. 395 between the snowy Sierra and the deserts of Nevada, has exposed deep resentments between parents of students in traditional high schools and those with teenagers in a college-prep academy designed for high achievers.
The trouble started a week ago when Clark announced that the district, facing a budget shortfall of $1.8 million, was considering laying off more than a dozen teachers and closing the 15-year-old Eastern Sierra Academy, among other measures.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate:

Chris Giles & David Oakley:

Moody’s Investor Service, the credit rating agency, will fire a warning shot at the US on Monday, saying that unless the country gets public finances into better shape than the Obama administration projects there would be “downward pressure” on its triple A credit rating.
Examining the administration’s outlook for the federal budget deficit, the agency said: “If such a trajectory were to materialise, there would at some point be downward pressure on the triple A rating of the federal government.”
It projects that the federal borrowing is so high that the interest payments on government debt will grow to more than 15 per cent of government revenues, about the same by the end of the decade as the previous 1980s peak.
This time the servicing burden would be harder to reverse, however, because it would not be caused by high interest rates but by high debt levels.

Loud noises pose hearing-loss risk to kids

Joyce Cohen:

For football fans, the indelible image of last month’s Super Bowl might have been quarterback Drew Brees’ fourth-quarter touchdown pass that put the New Orleans Saints ahead for good. But for audiologists around the nation, the highlight came after the game – when Brees, in a shower of confetti, held aloft his 1-year-old son, Baylen.
The boy was wearing what looked like the headphones worn by his father’s coaches on the sideline, but they were actually low-cost, low-tech earmuffs meant to protect his hearing from the stadium’s roar.
Specialists say such safeguards are critical for young ears in a deafening world. Hearing loss from exposure to loud noises is cumulative and irreversible; if such exposure starts in infancy, children can live “half their lives with hearing loss,” said Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Comments on Seattle’s Math Curriculum Court Ruling, Governance and Community Interaction

Melissa Westbrook:

I attended Harium’s Community meeting and the 43rd Dems meeting (partial) yesterday. Here are some updates (add on if you attended either or Michael DeBell’s meeting).
We covered a fair amount of ground with Harium but a lot on the math ruling/outcomes. Here’s what he said:

  • the Board will decide what will happen from the math ruling. I asked Harium about who would be doing what because of how the phrasing the district used in their press release – “In addition to any action the School Board may take, the district expects to appeal this decision.” It made it sound like the district (1) might do something different from the Board and (2) the district had already decided what they would do. Harium said they misspoke and it was probably the heat of the moment.
  • He seems to feel the judge erred. He said they did follow the WAC rules which is what she should have been ruling on but didn’t. I probably should go back and look at the complete ruling but it seems like not going by the WAC would open her decision up to be reversed so why would she have done it? He said the issue was that there are statewide consequences to this ruling and that Issaquah and Bellevue (or Lake Washington?) are doing math adoptions and this ruling is troubling. I gently let Harium know that the Board needs to follow the law, needs to be transparent in their decision-making and the district needs to have balanced adoption committees or else this could happen again. No matter how the district or the Board feel, the judge did not throw out the case, did not rule against the plaintiffs but found for them. The ball is in the Board’s court and they need to consider this going forward with other decisions.

State details Milwaukee Public Schools failures

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools has failed to fulfill multiple elements of its state-ordered educational improvement plan, according to newly released documents from the state Department of Public Instruction that detail why the district is at risk of losing millions of dollars of federal funding.
Though the main standoff between the state and its largest district continues to be a disagreement over how MPS imposes remedies of an ongoing special education lawsuit, the new documents specify where MPS hasn’t met other state orders, including literacy instruction, identifying students who need extra help or special services, and tracking newly hired, first-year teachers and teachers hired on emergency licenses.
The district’s lack of compliance with what are known formally as “corrective action requirements” – imposed by the state because MPS repeatedly has missed yearly academic progress targets – is what led Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers last week to initiate the process of withholding up to $175 million in federal dollars.
Legally, the greatest leverage Evers can exert against a poorly performing district under the federal No Child Left Behind law is to withhold federal dollars. To take that action, he said, he first had to issue notice to MPS and allow the district to request a hearing.

Rigorous college-prep (AP) classes skyrocketing in Washington state

Katherine Long:

A decade ago, most Seattle-area high schools offered just a handful of rigorous classes that provided a way to earn college credit while supercharging a transcript. And only students with top grades were allowed to sign up.
But in 10 years, the intensive, fast-paced Advanced Placement (AP) classes have skyrocketed in this state.
In 2008, fully one-quarter of Washington public-school seniors took at least one AP test during their high-school years, compared with 10 percent in 1997. In some schools, almost every student takes an AP class in junior or senior year.
And other schools around the state are moving fast to add AP classes and expand participation, in part because college admissions officials say the demanding classes do a good job of preparing students for higher education.
Many schools are encouraging all students — not just the high achievers, but also average students and even those who struggle — to take AP classes or enroll in other rigorous programs such as the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Melissa Westbrook has more.

Wisconsin Starts Process to Withhold Funds from the Milwaukee Public Schools

Erin Richards:

Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction took the first formal step Thursday toward withholding millions of dollars from Milwaukee Public Schools because of the district’s failure to show progress on improvement actions ordered by the state.
Superintendent Tony Evers officially notified the district that he would seek to “reduce to zero” all administrative funds and defer all programmatic funds that MPS currently receives to serve low-income children, unless the district could prove that it’s made progress in key areas of its corrective action plan.
“I don’t believe appropriate progress has been made in benchmark areas,” Evers said in an interview. “I can’t stand by and wait any longer.”
The state issued corrective action orders to MPS last summer because of the district’s failure to make adequate yearly progress on state test scores for five consecutive years under the No Child Left Behind law.

Wisconsin’s Race to the Top Application

via a kind reader’s email: 14MB PDF:

January 15, 2010 Dear Secretary Duncan:
On behalf of Wisconsin’s school children, we are pleased to present to you our application for the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top program. We were honored when President Obama traveled to Wisconsin to announce his vision for this vital program and we are ready to accept the President’s challenge to make education America’s mission.
We are proud of the steps we are taking to align our assessments with high standards, foster effective teachers and leaders, raise student achievement and transform our lowest performing schools. Over the last several months Wisconsin has pushed an educational reform agenda that has brought together over 430 Wisconsin school districts and charter schools together around these central themes.
Race to the Top funding will be instrumental in supporting and accelerating Wisconsin’s education agenda. While Wisconsin has great students, parents, teachers and leaders we recognize that more must be done to ensure that our students are prepared to compete in a global economy. The strong application presented to you today does just that.
Wisconsin’s application contains aggressive goals supported by a comprehensive plan. These goals are targeted at not only high performing schools and students but also address our lowest performers. For example, over the next four years Wisconsin, with your support, is on track to:

  • Ensure all of our children are proficient in math and reading.
  • Drastically reduce the number of high school dropouts.
  • Increase the high school graduation growth rate for Native American, African American and Hispanic students.
  • Significantly increase the annual growth in college entrance in 2010 and maintain that level of growth over the next four years.
  • Drastically cut our achievement gap.

These goals are supported by a comprehensive plan with a high degree of accountability. Our plan is focused on research proven advancements that tackle many of the challenges facing Wisconsin schools. Advancements such as the following:

  • Raising standards — joined consortium with 48 other states to develop and adopt internationally benchmarked standards.
  • More useful assessments — changes to our testing process to provide more meaningful information to teachers and parents.
  • Expanded data systems — including the ability to tie students to teachers so that we can ultimately learn what works and what doesn’t in education.
  • More support for teachers — both for new teachers through mentoring and for other teachers through coaching.
  • Increased capacity at the state and regional level to assist with instructional improvement efforts including providing training for coaches and mentors.
  • An emphasis on providing additional supports, particularly in early childhood and middle school to high school transition, to ensure that Wisconsin narrows its achievement gap and raises overall achievement.
  • Turning around our lowest performing schools — enhancing the capacity for Milwaukee Public Schools and the state to support that effort; contracting out to external organizations with research-proven track records where appropriate.
  • Providing wraparound services, complimenting school efforts in specific neighborhoods in Milwaukee to get low income children the supports necessary to succeed within and outside the school yard.
  • Investing in STEM — Building off our currently successful Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology efforts to ensure that more students have access to high-quality STEM courses and training.

The agenda that you have before you is one that builds on our great successes yet recognizes that we can and must do more to ensure our children are prepared for success. We appreciate your consideration of Wisconsin’s strong commitment to this mission. We look forward to joining President Obama and you in America’s Race to the Top.

Sincerely, Jim Doyle
Tony Evers
State Superintendent